NEW YORK -- Alaska will become the 31st state to enact autism insurance reform on June 27 when SB. 74, sponsored by Senator Johnny Ellis and approved by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority from both houses of the Alaska Legislature, officially becomes law. Governor Sean Parnell chose to return the bill to the Legislature today without his signature, which under Alaska law will result in enactment. A 20-day period for the Governor to sign expires June 27.
The new law requires private health insurance plans to cover the diagnosis, testing and treatment of autism spectrum disorders for children and young adults up to the age of 21 with no financial cap on benefits.
SB 74 includes coverage of behavioral health treatments, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), an evidence-based, medically necessary autism therapy, for individuals with autism. The law takes effect starting Jan. 1, 2013 as each state-regulated health plan is renewed or offered.
"We thank Senator Ellis Ellis, along with Representatives Dan Sadler and Pete Petersen and the many other legislators from both sides of the aisle in the Alaska legislature, for their leadership on this issue of critical concern to thousands of Alaskas families," said Lorri Unumb, Esq, Autism Speaks vice president for state government affairs. "With autism now affecting 1 in every 88 American children, including 1 of every 54 boys, Alaskas legislative leaders recognized that doing nothing in the face of an epidemic was no longer an option."
A number of states have yet to require private insurance companies to cover even essential autism treatments and services. In the absence of coverage, families often pay as much as they can out-of-pocket for services that can cost upwards of $50,000 per year. In the process, many risk their homes and the educations of their unaffected children essentially mortgaging their entire futures.
The Anchorage Daily News, Unumb noted, said it best in an April 11 editorial:
There's a reason that lopsided majorities of both the House and Senate not only support this bill but signed on as co-sponsors. It's a simple opportunity for legislators to do much good at little cost. That bipartisan support reflects an Alaska trait we've seen over and over through the years: Give Alaskans a specific good thing to do to help their neighbors, and they'll respond in spades.
The new law requires a small business exemption for employers in the group market with 20 or fewer employees. Employers with 21 to 25 employees will be able to claim an exemption if they can show the coverage has increased premiums by three percent or more based on actual claims experience over any 12-month period.
The law also creates a nine-member Comprehensive Autism Early Diagnosis and Treatment Task Force charged with tracking the impact of the new law and issuing recommendations for the development of a statewide comprehensive plan to support the early diagnosis and treatment of autism. The task force membership will include one insurance industry representative, one mental health provider and one parent or guardian of a child with autism.