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Published September 22, 2010, 07:11 PM

Advocates Want ND Insurance Coverage for Autism

North Dakota's Legislature should require insurers to help pay for treatment of children with autism, advocates say.

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Legislature should require insurers to help pay for treatment of children with autism, advocates say.

Autism is a brain disorder that affects a person's ability to relate to others, and affects children in different ways. Experts say childhood therapy for autism spectrum disorder is important, but extensive behavioral therapy can cost more than $70,000 for a year of treatment.

A North Dakota legislative committee is considering a bill to require the health insurance plan for state workers to cover treatment for autism disorders. The committee's chairman, Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, said the panel will decide in October whether to recommend that the Legislature approve the idea next year.

An analysis by Deloitte Consulting LLP estimates the mandate could increase the state health plan's expenditures by almost $3 million annually.

Nicholas Gates, a Dickinson police officer, asked lawmakers on Tuesday to support the measure. He was accompanied by his 8-year-old son, Noah, who stood shyly by his father's side and said little. Nicholas Gates said his son was diagnosed in late 2005.

"When Noah was first diagnosed, we were very overwhelmed. We didn't know where to turn, especially when we were told that our son needed specific treatment, and we weren't able to get that because our insurance company would not cover it," Gates said. "We were able to get some therapies ... but we were unable to get the social and behavioral therapies that Noah required."

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 110 children has an autism spectrum disorder. In 2006, the average prevalence for 8-year-old boys was eight per 1,000 children, the agency said. The spectrum occurs more often in boys than girls.

At least 21 states require insurers to provide treatment for autism, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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