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Health Team

House votes for autism therapy coverage mandate

Posted 7:24 p.m. Thursday
Updated 7:26 p.m. Thursday

— Families of children with autism won a victory Thursday when the House of Representatives unanimously voted to add Alabama to the states that mandate insurance coverage for a pricey therapy that some parents say has been "life-changing" for their children.

Representatives voted 100-0 for the bill mandating coverage of applied behavioral analysis therapy, also called ABA therapy. However, the bill faces an uncertain future as it heads to the Senate with roughly one month remaining in the legislative session.

"This is what we came to Montgomery to do: make a difference in people's lives," Rep. Jim Patterson, the bill's sponsor, said during debate.

Advocates in the state had been fighting for insurance coverage for the treatment that costs parents thousands of dollars each month out of pocket. The Autism Society of Alabama says Alabama is one of five states that do not require the coverage.

The cost for businesses and insurance rates have been the top concerns for opponents of the bill.

Blue Cost has estimated the mandate will cost its customers between $48.8 million and $97.7 million each year. The company also said it would be the most liberal in the nation in terms of autism benefits and those costs could result in higher premiums.

Lawmakers added provisions to the bill setting coverage caps and a trigger to drop the coverage if it causes more than a 1 percent rise in premiums. For example, yearly coverage for children under age 9 would be capped at $40,000.

Parents of autistic children filled the House gallery ahead of the vote

Robert Luckhardt said he and his wife pay up to $3,200-each month for their 4-year-old son, Eli, to attend ABA therapy 24 hours each week.

"Huge difference. He's talking more. He's requesting more. He's communicating his needs," he said.

Luckhardt said he realizes he and his wife, a physician, are fortunate to be able to afford the therapy. However, he said it is heartbreaking to see families who cannot.

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