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Senate passes autism insurance reform

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Senate voted in favor of statewide autism insurance reform Tuesday, passing Senate Bill 676 in its morning session.

The measure would require insurance companies to provide coverage for physician-advised autism treatments. Such therapies can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and advocates for the bill say this is a huge step for helping North Carolina families and their budgets.

Tracey Sheriff is the CEO of the Autism Society of North Carolina. “Autism does not differ from other non-curable, chronic medical conditions that are routinely covered by health insurance, including asthma, diabetes, and hypertension,” he explained. “We can reduce long-term costs by intervening early and consistently.”

FOX8 has highlighted several local families in favor of the measure. One of the only diagnosis and treatment centers in the state is in Winston-Salem. ABC of NC’s Executive Director Selene Johnson has repeatedly expressed her support for insurance coverage of autism therapies.

Similar bills have been debated in the legislature over the past several years, but never enacted. A bill passed in the House last year but was never brought for a vote in the Senate.

Opponents included Phil Berger, who told FOX8 at the end of last year’s legislative session, that he did not agree with mandating any insurance coverage as it could increase premiums for all policyholders.

National advocacy group, Autism Speaks, supports broader autism insurance coverage and estimated the increase to the average insurance policyholder to be about 31 cents in North Carolina.

Senate Bill 676 will now go to the House for a vote.

Similar House Bill 646 was also filed at the end of March:

Legislators could vote for one or the other or come up with a compromise of the two.

On April 2, the state of Georgia became the 41st U.S. state to pass such a law.

“ASNC applauds both chambers for their commitment to finding a solution that helps families who have a child on the autism spectrum utilize their insurance benefits to help with autism therapy,” Sheriff added.