- Associated Press - Monday, April 21, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - An estimated 1,000 Nebraskans will receive insurance coverage for autism therapies under a new state law.

Gov. Dave Heineman signed the bill into law Monday standing alongside two families with autistic children, and said the measure means more to him personally than any other he’s signed into law.

The proposal allows for up to 25 hours per week of covered therapy until the insured person turns 21 years old. Required coverage would include applied behavioral analysis, a treatment method that has been shown to help autistic children learn to function better. Certain insurance plans will be exempt from the autism requirement, including those that are sold in the individual and small-group markets under the new federal health care marketplace.

Vicki Depenbusch and 15-year-old son Jacob stood next to Heineman during the bill signing. Heineman and Jacob met in 2010 at a parent-teacher conference, and the pair has been friends ever since, Heineman said. Jacob was nonverbal until he was about 4, but with the treatment and support from his school district, he started communicating through sign language, pictures and then words.

“I’m signing this bill into law on behalf of Jacob and Nebraska’s autism families who are challenged with autism every day,” Heineman said.

Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln, the bill’s sponsor, said there were times he considered giving up on the bill. It advanced out of committee in early April, leaving lawmakers little time to debate and vote on the bill. He credited parents for their help getting the bill passed.

The treatment that is covered requires a lot of training and education to be provided, Coash said, but noted the investment will save money in the long-run as children become independent and productive adults.

“This therapy opens doors and what it does for children is it allows them to interact with children in a way that they wouldn’t have but for this therapy,” Coash said.

Colleen Jankovich was the other mother who stood with Heineman during the bill signing.

“I’m so grateful for everyone for everything they’ve done because it means there’s a future in our state for our children, and that’s all that matters,” she said at the news conference.

Nebraska is the 36th state to require this kind of coverage.


The bill is LB254