LINCOLN (April 21, 2014) -- Nebraska became the 36th state to enact autism insurance reform today when Gov. Dave Heineman signed legislation requiring certain insurers to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism up to age 20. The new law, which takes effect with new health policies issued for 2015, requires up to 25 hours a week of behavioral health treatment, including applied behavior analysis (ABA).
Heineman said he was signing the bill, LB.254, "on behalf of families who meet the challenges of autism every day.” The bill was sponsored by Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln, who has worked for years with families and autism advocacy groups, such as Autism Speaks, in winning autism insurance reform.
“I care about this issue because I have seen the impact that this treatment can have on the future of a child with autism,” said Coash. “Positive things can happen when they receive life-changing treatment. These families are strong willed and they never gave up on the bill, so I wouldn’t either. Today is a special day.”
“This is a great day for Autism families in Nebraska,” said Vicki Depenbusch, Autism Speaks' advocacy chair for Nebraska. “It gives us hope that our children will be the best citizens that they can be.”
Depenbusch's son, Jacob, who has autism, and Heineman (pictured right with Vicki Depenbusch and Coash) met at a parent teacher conference in 2010. The two have communicated regularly and attended events together over the last four years. Jacob calls himself the “Governor’s Buddy.”
The new law requires coverage for speech, occupational and physical therapy, as well as pharmaceutical care for the treatment of autism. No visit or dollars are imposed on those services.
Behavioral health treatment, however, was capped at 25 hours per week and insurers will be able to review treatment plans every six months. Certain state-regulated group and individual health policies, as well as state employees, will be covered.
In addition to Nebraska, Utah has enacted autism insurance reform in 2014 and Kansas expanded its 2010 law, which was limited to state employees, to cover its kids with autism. Similar bills remain active in Hawai'i and North Carolina, and legislation that would raise Maine's age cap from 5 to 10 was just sent to the Governor.