Gov. Heineman Signs Autism Coverage Bill into Law

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Monday afternoon, Gov. Dave Heineman signed LB 254 into law. As a result of this law, some health insurance plans in Nebraska will provide coverage for screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorder in a child until the insured child is 21 years old.

“I’m pleased to sign this autism bill into law,” said Gov. Heineman. “I am signing this bill on behalf of Nebraska families who meet the challenges of autism every day.”

The Governor held a public bill signing news conference on with autism advocates. The autism bill was sponsored by State Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln, and had the backing of many autism advocacy groups and families.

“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 State Sen. 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’t either. Today is a special day.”

One of the autism advocates involved in the legislation is Vicki Depenbusch of Lincoln, who is the mother of an autistic son, Jacob. Governor Heineman met Jacob at his parent teacher conference held in 2010. For the last 4 years, the two have communicated regularly and attended events together. Governor Heineman appreciates his friendship with Jacob, who calls himself the “Governor’s Buddy.”

“This is a great day for Autism families in Nebraska,” said Depenbusch. “It gives us hope that our children will be the best citizens that they can be.”

The insurance coverage includes behavioral health treatment, such as applied behavior analysis, for autism. This type of treatment will be limited to 25 hours per week and the insurer will be able to review the treatment once every six months.

Another mother, Christina Evans was relieved when she found out the bill she's been fighting for is finally coming to law.

"I'm very excited, it's going to be a huge change for our whole family and Aiden's going to have what he needs finally and it's so exciting," said Evans.

Certain insurance plans will be exempt from providing the autism requirement, according to LB 254. Those include health plans sold in the individual or small group federally facilitated marketplace under the federal Affordable Care Act. Also, Nebraska is preempted from mandating coverage on plans governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Most private employer sponsored plans are ERISA plans.

This bill does have an emergency clause so it will take effect starting on Tuesday.