Gov. Northam signs law to remove autism health coverage age cap

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam held a ceremonial bill signing at the Capitol Square Bell Tower on Tuesday for legislation that will improve access for families whose children have been diagnosed with autism.

Currently, the law in Virginia only requires health insurance coverage for those with autism between the ages of two and ten. The bills passed by the Virginia General Assembly this year, SB 1693 and HB 2577, remove the age cap.

"Lifting it all together is long overdue for people in Virginia," said Kate Fletcher, a mother of three boys, all with autism, who was at the signing.

Her oldest, Matthew, 11, is currently outside of the coverage limit but will be able to be covered again when the bills go into effect on January 1, 2020.

"And going into middle school and adolescence, it's such a comfort to know that we'll have access to those services," she said, adding those services can get expensive. "What we're used to, if it isn't nailed down in our house, selling it to help pay for boys therapy. So, every year, we reach our out of pocket maximum when it comes to our health insurance plan."

Northam said not only will the bills help out families, but doctors, too, when it comes to developing treatment plans.

"A lot of medicine now is moving in the direction of personalized healthcare and that relies on being able to collect data and then analyzing the data. So, in order to receive the data, you have to see the patients," added Northam.

The location of the signing held a significance for the longtime supporters of the effort to expand access. Ten years ago, at the start of the 2009 General Assembly session, supporters held a rally at the bell tower kicking off the push.

"So, walking here today and just thinking about how far we've come because of so many of you, I just did the ugly cry," said Judith Ursitti, a mother of two children on the autism spectrum and director of state government affairs for Autism Speaks.

The legislation is expected to expand healthcare coverage to nearly 10,000 Virginians living with autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in every 59 children will be diagnosed.

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