OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) -- Kansas will require health insurance companies to cover services for hundreds of children with autism starting next year under a bill signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Sam Brownback after a six-year fight by lawmakers and parents for at least a limited mandate.
Parents, legislators and advocates for children with autism described the new law as a first step toward lessening the burden on families facing tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket costs to treat their children's autism. Supporters estimate the new law will require coverage for about 250 children when it first takes effect next year and another 500 children in 2016, out of the estimated 8,400 who need it.
Brownback signed the bill in an auditorium on the satellite University of Kansas campus in Overland Park, the home of a center for autism research. About 130 people attended the ceremony, including local legislators and parents who have been vocal advocates for requiring health coverage for treatment for autism.
"This is a big step for the state of Kansas, taking a step in the right direction for all these children," said Heidi Eckart, of Overland Park, who attended the ceremony with her 8-year-old son, Brad, who's been treated for autism since he was a toddler.
The law will require group health plans for companies with 51 or more employees to provide coverage for services for children younger than 12, starting next year. Other health plans would be required to provide coverage starting in 2016.
Some children could receive coverage for up to 1,300 hours a year of applied behavior analysis, a specialized therapy that trains children through repetition to master daily living skills.
"As a parent, your life is however your child's life is going," Brownback, a father of five, told the audience before signing the bill.
Eckart said she gave up her job as an information technology sales executive and tapped her savings, retirement account and young son's college fund to cover $500,000 in expenses. She said Brad is now a second-grader at Overland Trail Elementary School in Overland Park, doing well there and professing to like "almost every subject."
"It's just amazing where he's come from," his mother said. "I ended up having to stop my 20-plus-year career and figure out what was wrong with him and, thank goodness, had saved a lot along the way."
In the past, concerns about a mandate increasing the costs of health insurance premiums and the state being required to pay for services under the 2010 federal health care overhaul stymied attempts to pass legislation.
Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican who helped shepherd the limited coverage mandate through the Legislature this year, said there's hope that treatment for autism will be designated in 2015 as an essential benefit under the federal health care law, allowing the state to expand its coverage mandate.
Jennifer Smith, executive director of the Autism Society of the Heartland and a Gardner mother of two adult children with autism, said families face $20,000 and $70,000 in costs in treating their children.
"They may go bankrupt," she said. "Someone may have four jobs."
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