Autism bill passes Senate

BISMARCK — A proposed program to help those with autism spectrum disorder and their families unanimously passed the state Senate on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 2268 seeks to establish an autism spectrum disorder Centers of Achievement pilot program.

The bill requires the Department of Human Services to establish the pilot program in the next two years. Like Centers of Excellence in higher education, these centers would involve public-private partnerships.

Those interested in working with the state would submit an application with a plan for the funding, development and delivery of skilled services to individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

The proposed regional centers would be in cities with populations of more than 10,000.

Anne Carlsen Center CEO Eric Monson said families don’t always know where to turn after receiving an autism diagnosis and the centers would help.

Bill sponsor Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said he’d like to see several centers across the state one day where children can get the attention that they need.

“When you have children that have these disabilities, it takes a real toll on the family, financially and emotionally, and we need to do what we can to help out,” Wardner said.

The revised bill asks the Department of Human Services to study the feasibility of establishing a network of regional autism spectrum disorder Centers of Achievement.

The bill provides $600,000 to implement the pilot program and study.

In addition, the bill recommends legislators conduct a comprehensive study of the system for the diagnosis, treatment, care and education of individuals with autism spectrum disorder in the state.

The study would need to include recommendations of how this system can be improved.

Senate Bill 2268 now moves to the House for consideration.

The original version of the bill required health insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorder. The bill was revamped due to concern that the Legislature would not pass it.

Nick Gates of Dickinson, who pushed for the original bill, said the goal was to get every parent access to early and effective autism treatment for their children.

At least 23 states specifically require insurers to provide coverage for the treatment of autism, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Gates expects more states will pass similar laws and sees the issue returning to the North Dakota Legislature in the future.

“We’re going to eventually need to have insurance companies help pay for it,” he said. “It’s coming. It’s going to happen.”

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