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Ohio Becomes One of Last States to Mandate Autism Coverage

Ohio on Wednesday drew attention to the fact that it has joined 47 other states in mandating that private health insurers cover screening, diagnosis, and treatment of autism disorders.

By Jim Provance

Ohio on Wednesday drew attention to the fact that it has joined 47 other states in mandating that private health insurers cover screening, diagnosis, and treatment of autism disorders.

Gov. John Kasich, between holding hands and trading jokes with autistic children, participated in a ceremonial signing of House Bill 463, a wide-ranging law that he really signed three months ago.

The law took effect last week, but the mandate on insurance companies won't show up until new policies are issued beginning Jan. 1.

"You see Lucy?" Mr. Kasich asked, talking about the 6-year-old daughter of former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges. She was diagnosed with autism at 2.

"You see all the hopes and dreams for this sweet, beautiful, little girl?" he asked. "If we can do something to make sure that her dreams come true, why wouldn't we do that?"

Other House Bill 463 provisions taking effect include foreclosure reforms and a limited prospective prohibition on using plywood to board up vacant homes that are in expedited foreclosure.

The signing came one day after Mr. Kasich's fellow Republicans in the House announced they were removing from the next two-year budget the governor's proposed overhaul of another program -- changes criticized as making it tougher for some low and middle-income families to qualify for help in caring for children with severe and costly medical handicaps like cystic fibrosis and hemophilia.

House Bill 463 requires most private health insurance policies to include coverage for autism spectrum disorders. Mr. Kasich had already signed an executive order requiring autism coverage through Medicaid and policies for public employees several years ago.

Minimum coverage must include certain numbers of sessions for language or occupational therapy, therapeutic intervention, and mental or behavioral health outpatient services for children under the age of 14. Deductibles and coinsurance costs cannot be out of line with the other medical and surgical benefits provided by the policy.

"We know that research has shown that early detection and early intervention of autism spectrum disorders are key in the development of these beautiful, amazing, wonderful children to live fuller and more productive lives," said Doreena Beebe, Columbus mother of an autistic child.

"Overall, I think the bill ended up in a pretty good place for people who need it, but also, moving forward, we'll have a positive impact on the economy by us being cognizant of the long-term effects of the regulations that are put in place," Senate President Larry Obhof (R., Medina) said.

Mr. Kasich added that he believes business has a responsibility in this area.

"Look at all the stuff we've done for small businesses," he said. "If you're a small business you essentially don't pay any income tax... It's not like they're really getting hammered here...Some things are necessary, and this is moving us into the 21st century."

Michigan has had its own autism mandate since 2014.

(c)2017 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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