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Bill to Help Families of Autistic Children to Become Law

ANCHORAGE – Senate Bill 74, which requires health insurance policies to cover treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), has been transmitted by the Governor back to the Legislature. The new law requires insurance coverage for ASDs including medically necessary treatments such as speech and language therapies, occupational and physical therapies, and behavioral interventions. Governor Sean Parnell chose to return the bill to the Legislature without his signature, which under Alaska law will result in enactment. A 20-day period, not including Sundays, for the Governor to sign expires June 27.

“I first introduced this legislation three years ago after meeting with a mother of a child with autism,” said Rep. Pete Petersen (D-Anchorage), prime sponsor of the House version of this bill.  “When I learned that children were being denied coverage for scientifically proven treatment that could help them lead a normal life, I knew we had to take action.”

Senate Bill 74, approved by the Senate in February, was passed by the House on the last day of session after a few minor changes. Families of those affected by autism packed committee rooms and the hallways of the Capitol Building as Senate Bill 74 made its way through the process. Dozens of parents, experts and others testified in support of the legislation.

"Today, the families of autistic children in Alaska can celebrate a bill that will not only help children, I believe it will help save marriages and families," said Sen. Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage), the prime sponsor of SB 74. "Children who receive these medical treatments have a shot at staying home and out of costly institutions where they would be destined to a life of constant and intensive care."

Autism affects at least one in every 88 children in the United States, and the effects on untreated children and their families are devastating emotionally, psychologically, and economically. These obstacles to a normal and healthy family life can be overcome with treatments that are both effective and affordable.

Representative Petersen introduced the measure for two consecutive Sessions, but the House version stalled due to strong opposition in the House Health & Social Services Committee.  When SB 74 finally came up for a vote in the House, it passed by an overwhelming 36-3 vote after passing the Senate 14-5.

"I am proud of the Legislature for passing this bill," said Rep. Petersen. "Legislators from both bodies, both parties worked across the aisle and across party lines for the past two years to make sure that these Alaskan children have the best shot at a normal life."

For more information, please contact Amory Lelake in the Office of Senator Johnny Ellis at 269-0169.

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