RICHMOND — House Republican leaders on Tuesday endorsed a bill to expand insurance coverage for children with autism, breaking a budget impasse that had killed a similar measure last year.
Virginia law requires health insurers to cover autism treatment only for children 2 to 10. House Bill 2577, sponsored by Del. Robert M. Thomas Jr. (R-Stafford), would lift that cap.
The change would boost costs for state insurance plans covering state workers by an estimated $237,000, according to House Republicans.
Last year, a similar measure sponsored by state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier) passed the Senate unanimously but died in the House because the state’s cost had not been budgeted.
Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that after last year’s outcome he ran into Mark Llobell, founder of the nonprofit Virginia Autism Project. “Mark was not pleased that we didn’t fund the bill last year,” Jones said at a news conference.
He said the two of them worked it out, leading to this year’s change of heart. “It’s a minimal cost, in our opinion, for the benefit they’ll be gaining,” Jones said.
House Speaker M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) endorsed the measure at the news conference, citing statistics that autism affects 1 in 59 children in the United States, with the number of cases rising by 15 percent a year.
“This announcement has been a long time coming in Virginia,” Cox said.
Several families joined the legislators in making the announcement, including Gary and Kate Fletcher of suburban Richmond, who have three sons with autism. Their oldest is 11 and is no longer covered for behavior therapy, Kate Fletcher said.
“This would be game-changing for our family to be able to continue those services,” she said. Such therapy can help autistic children learn how to manage their condition and develop valuable social skills, she said. The family maxes out its $8,000 out-of-pocket insurance limit every year, she said.
“If it weren’t for the behavior therapy that we receive, we would not be able to go out in public like this today,” Fletcher said, alongside two of her sons.
Jones has signed on as a co-sponsor of Thomas’s bill, which has bipartisan support. Del. Chris L. Hurst (D-Montgomery) is also a sponsor.