State Senate OKs expanding insurance coverage for autism

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ALBANY - The State Senate Wednesday unanimously passed a bill to expand autism treatments paid for by health insurers and extend coverage throughout the patient's life.

The bill, which is expected to pass the Assembly next week, seeks to close gaps in coverage that have resulted in hardship for patients and their families. It also encourages early diagnosis and use of approved treatments.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 1 in 110 children nationwide is afflicted with autism spectrum disorder, a neurobiological condition affecting communication skills.

The causes of autism are in dispute and there is no cure. This has led some insurers to routinely reject claims, according Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Albany), the bill's sponsor.

Health insurers warned the legislation would result in higher premiums. Breslin estimated premiums would grow by 2 percent.

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Area lawmakers said they wanted to ease the financial burden on families.

"Every day I hear the horror stories of parents having to remortgage their homes," said Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington). Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) added, "Families are literally going broke."

However, autism advocates are divided on the measure.

Autism Speaks hailed the bill as an "end to discrimination."

The Autism Society of America worried insurers would still avoid paying for care because the bill doesn't specify all treatments.

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