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Iowa became the 19th state to enact autism insurance reform in 2010, but the legislation only applied to state employee health insurance plans. Since 2010, state employee insurance plans covered “applied behavior analysis," a service that is proven to benefit children with autism. According to the Department of Human Services, about 3,000 Iowans receive autism services through the state health insurance plan. Experts say applied behavior analysis (ABA) can help children diagnosed with autism modify their behavior and improve their communication skills.

This week, the Iowa House expanded this access beyond state employees by unanimously passing House File 215, which extends ABA coverage to all health insurance plans offered by companies that have 50 or more employees. “This bill is a long-time coming, “ said Rep. Chris Hall of Sioux City. “It’s difficult for the public often to understand that public policy can be a very incremental process. It takes conversation. It takes people from opposing views actually coming to the table and sitting down together and trying to find that common ground.” Advocates for this legislation have been working on this for nearly a decade, and their chief advocate in the House was emotional in his thanks to those working on the bill. “I just wanted to rise and say what a wonderful day this is,” said Rep. Dave Heaton of Mt. Pleasant. "It’s been a long haul…and today we’re going to bring it home and make it all possible."

For others, the passage of this legislation was very personal. “Our oldest daughter is autistic,” said Rep. Andy McKean of Anamosa. "I can simply say that my wife and I would have very much wished that this legislation was in effect back so many years ago.” While the bill passed 96-0, it was not without its controversy. Iowa’s insurance industry and business organizations opposed it. A representative from the Iowa Association of Business and Industry said the legislation would require coverage for a small number of people but would be paid for by all employees. The Iowa Federation of Insurers said they were opposed to the bill because ABA is “not a proven therapy.”

The bill’s floor manager, Rep. Brian Best of Carroll, said that the cost to add this to insurance is the amount of one postage stamp per year, and cited studies that have shown that 87% of children receiving applied behavior analysis see improvement (and 40% see “significant improvement”). The bill now moves to the Senate, where it does not need to go through the committee process because it has a companion bill (Senate File 400) already on the Senate Calendar. That means it has passed the second funnel hurdle, and is ready for Senate debate.

If this bill is important to you:

  • Thank your State Representative for passing House File 215, and encourage your State Senator to vote for it. You can email them here.
  • You can watch the House debate on the bill here.
  • You can see the list of Representatives voting for the bill here.