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Autism Speaks Hails California Legislature for Final Passage of Autism Insurance Bill, Urges Gov. Brown to sign SB 946 Into Law

September 09, 2011

NEW YORK, NY (September 9, 2011) – Autism Speaks, the nation’'s largest autism advocacy organization, today applauded the California Legislature for approving an amended autism insurance reform bill, SB 946, on the final day of the legislative session and urged Gov. Jerry Brown to sign it into law.

"“Today'’s votes by the Assembly and Senate give California families caring for children with autism a ray of hope that they will receive the insurance coverage they deserve for proven behavioral health treatments,"” said Peter Bell, Autism Speaks, executive vice president for programs and services. “"California is now ready to join the 27 other states, including Nevada and Arizona, that have already enacted reform."”

Under the bill, as of July 1, 2012, health plans and insurers must cover behavioral health treatment, including applied behavior analysis (ABA) and other behavior intervention programs. SB 946 explicitly preserves the obligation of health plans and insurers to provide services under California's existing mental health parity law, through which many families have been able to secure coverage for other treatments such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and treatment of comorbid physical health issues.

Governor Brown has until October 9 to sign the bill into law, which is scheduled to sunset in 2014 if not renewed. Autism Speaks credited Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker John Perez and Assemblymember Jim Beall, Jr. for leading the fight for insurance reform during the waning days of the legislative session.

Thousands of California families, in the absence of insurance coverage, have been forced to pay out-of-pocket or rely on taxpayer-funded programs for behavioral health treatments, which can cost $50,000 a year or more. Autism Speaks has helped lead the fight in statehouses across the nation to end such insurance company discrimination, resulting in the enactment of laws in 27 states. This year alone, laws have been enacted in Arkansas, Virginia, West Virginia and Rhode Island, and a bill passed this summer by the New York Legislature awaits Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

The use of early intervention treatments, such as ABA, can substantially increase a child’s independence, thereby reducing future taxpayer costs for special education and social services. In states that have enacted autism insurance reform, actual experience has demonstrated the impact on premiums has been far below the inflated estimates floated by the insurance industry.

The bill passed today first by the Assembly then by the Senate was designed to correct a flaw in insurance settlements negotiated over the summer between the state Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) and two major insurers. The settlements initially appeared to provide the needed coverage, but contained a flaw that substantially negated their intended impact.