- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Parents of children with autism have successfully expanded a bill that would help ensure insurance coverage for a key type of behavioral health therapy that’s effective at treating the disorder.

The House State Affairs Committee unanimously voted Wednesday to approve the measure, which only applies to certain insurance plans. The measure mandates coverage for intensive behavioral treatments for autism spectrum disorder and would apply to about 30 percent of health plans in the state, said Republican Rep. Scott Munsterman, its House sponsor.

The change to the proposal passed Wednesday increases the payments available for children through the age of 6 by thousands of dollars and expands coverage to hands-on providers, which significantly increases the number of providers included. Representatives from insurance companies have supported the original bill but have pushed back against the expanded version.

A similar proposal failed last session, and lawmakers instead chose to study the effect of autism on children in the state. Munsterman said his efforts this session reflect “a sea change from last year.”

But some lawmakers warned the broader provisions that the committee voted into the bill could endanger its passage. Munsterman said after the vote that he would push for House lawmakers to support the broader bill.

“It was (the parents’) amendment, it was their voice to this whole process and I think they’re pretty solid on staying with that,” Munsterman said.

Crystal Reuter’s 6-year-old daughter, Katelyn, was diagnosed with severe autism when she was 2. Crystal Reuter said when parents dream of their children growing up, they imagine them going to college and maybe getting married.

“When you hear the diagnosis of autism, it rips that idea of these things ever happening away from you,” she said, but Katelyn has now received applied behavior analysis treatment for several years. “Meeting her today you would absolutely not know the struggle she has dealt with.”

Reuter, of Sioux Falls, said she’s glad the changes passed because the bill “needed a little bit more.”

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