Elmhurst Mayor Pete DiCianni was at the Thompson Center in Chicago Thursday, Aug. 16, to witness Gov. Pat Quinn sign . The new law ensures children diagnosed with autism will not lose their insurance coverage.
In its fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychiatric Association is proposing a more specific set of indicators for a diagnosis of autism. The reason for the change is to help ensure more targeted treatments, but the new definition threatened to take away coverage for some 20,000 children in Illinois.
SB 679, a bipartisan effort, "grandfathers" those children in so their insurance coverage won't be cut off. It will ensure them continued coverage of up to $36,000 a year and unlimited doctor and and therapy visits, DiCianni said.
In 2008, DiCianni authored the original legislation requiring insurance coverage for autism therapies. Illinois was the fifth state to adopt such a law, and since then, 33 states have followed suit. DiCianni's own daughter Brianna was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2.
“We have so many children like Brianna. (She) was once a nonverbal child struggling in a locked-shut world who now, because of therapy, speaks and is a mainstream third-grader," DiCianni said. "This legislation protects these children, especially those with aspergers, to allow them to continue to get treatment for recovery and be covered by their family insurance."
DiCianni, who co-authored SB 679, thanked chief sponsors Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and Rep. Angelo “Skip” Saviano (R-Elmwood Park), "who have always been champions for people struggling with autism," he said.
Mary Kay Betz, executive director of The Autism Society of Illinois, said the law is a good one.
"If and when the proposed changes are made to the DSM 5 criteria for autism by the American Psychiatric Association, families will not have to fear that they will lose their coverage for therapies they need to help treat autism," she said. "ASI will continue to work with state and federal lawmakers to make sure individuals and their families affected by autism are protected and supported."
The legislation, which passed both chambers unanimously, will hopefully act as a model for other states to follow, DiCianni said.
According to the Center for Disease Control, one in every 88 children today will be diagnosed with some form of autism. It affects more children than pediatric cancer, juvenile diabetes, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and pediatric AIDS combined. Without treatment, autism can cut off communication and social interaction. Children who receive early therapy have been known to regain language and social skills and can become productive members of society.