TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Ohio is joining 32 other states that require health insurance plans to cover therapy and treatment for children with autism.
The change comes as the number of children diagnosed with autism continues to grow and after unsuccessful attempts to increase help for families in Ohio.
Gov. John Kasich pushed for the plan announced Friday after state lawmakers weren't able to agree on a similar proposal over the last months.
"We're doing the right thing," said Kasich, who said mandating the coverage is a lifeline for parents.
Parents will be able to get coverage beginning in 2014 through health insurance sold in the private market and in the upcoming federal health insurance exchange along with the state employee health insurance plan, state health officials said.
While the requirement will extend into private coverage, self-insured and large group insurers are not included, officials said.
Most private carriers currently don't offer coverage for children with autism, said John Martin, director of Ohio's Department of Developmental Disabilities.
Insurers will be forced to pay for assessments, treatment plans, speech and occupational therapy and treatment aimed at improving communication and social skills.
The number of visits and hours will be limited to keep costs down so that health care costs don't spike.
That was a concern of business groups.
The Ohio Chamber of Commerce said Friday that Kasich's decision will increase health care costs for small businesses.
"Their options for controlling these costs are limited, and today's decision jeopardizes the health benefits many families count on," said Keith Lake, a lobbyist for the chamber.
Health experts say that one out of 88 children has autism, which usually shows up in early childhood. It restricts a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. There is no cure for autism, but early treatment can make a big difference.
"With early intervention, kids with autism do better at school, find employment, and become more independent, connected adults," Kasich said in a statement.
Several states, including Michigan, have approved changes mandating autism coverage within the past year.
Advocacy groups and health organizations were thrilled that Ohio has joined the other states.
"Thousands of Ohio children will have access to services to help them learn, and keep or improve skills and functional abilities that they may not be otherwise developing," said John Stacy, executive director of the Autism Society of Ohio.