Governor signs state’s autism insurance bill into law

ATLANTA, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Governor Nathan Deal signed the state’s autism insurance bill into law on Wednesday. He calls it one of the most important pieces of legislation he’s signed as governor.

With his signature, Deal is spreading hope and giving families with children on the autism spectrum a fighting chance.

“I know how heartbreaking it is for parents of autistic children to see their loved ones struggle,” Deal said. “We’re going to do something about that today to help lessen the burdens endured by those who suffer from autism, as well as their families who continue to carry the weight with them.”

House Bill 429 requires insurers to provide $30,000 of healthcare coverage each year to treat children under six years old with the condition. The mother of the fifth-grader who inspired the bill, known as Ava’s Law, says early intervention is key.

“We know that based on research children that get early intervention, like Ava, can meet their full potential,” Anna Bullard said.

Deal says one in 64 children born in Georgia are affected by autism and the condition is more common among boys. State lawmakers add starting therapy at a young age will help these kids live successful lives.

“Those first few years are so formative when it comes to getting the help and treatment,” State Senator John Kennedy said. “It changes the child and it changes what will ultimately be the adult one day.”

Sara Spivey’s 15-year-old son is diagnosed with autism. The Macon teen is not eligible for the healthcare coverage provided under the law, but Spivey says this is still a huge day for Georgia.

“It’s going to change a lot of lives,” Spivey said. “We’ve cracked the door and so I think we’ll keep fighting to increase the caps on the money and the age.”

As for Ava, state lawmakers says she is an example of what hope can look like for future kids with autism. She says she’s happy to lead the way.

“This one helped thousands, but thousands helped this one in Georgia and I just want everyone to know that,” Ava Bullard said.

The law goes into effect for insurance policies that are issued or renewed on or after January 1, 2016.

HB 429 also provides protection for patients diagnosed with terminal illnesses by prohibiting insurance carriers from dropping coverage or denying treatment.

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