RICHMOND, Va. — Healthcare coverage will soon be expanding for people diagnosed with autism in Virginia.

“So many families have been waiting for this for so many years,” Kate Fletcher said. 

Fletcher is one of many parents who came to Richmond this year to fight for their children’s access to health care coverage at the Capitol. All three of her boys, Matthew, Wesley and Henry, are on the autism spectrum. They go to behavioral therapy sessions, called ABA, weekly. 

“That’s been a really big game changer for our family,” Fletcher explained. “For teaching the boys life skills, reading skills, literacy skills, to really cope in a world that’s not really cut out for their sensory needs.”But at age 11, her oldest, Matthew, phased out of their insurance plan’s coverage. Fletcher says it costs about $200 per hour for behavioral therapy sessions, which builds up over time. 

This is a problem facing many families in Virginia, with the rate of diagnosis going up each year. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last year showing one in 59 were diagnosed with autism in the United States. That’s a more than 13 percent increase from the last report two years ago, that estimated one in 68. 

But now, things are changing for families with a loved one on the autism spectrum. 

Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill into law on Tuesday that lifts an age cap on coverage for treatment for people with autism. Before, insurance companies only were required to cover the costs from two to ten years old. 

The change was 17 years in the making, advocates say. ​​​​​​​”Families don’t have to declare bankruptcy,” Teresa Champion from the Virginia Autism Project said. “They don’t have to have three mortgages.” 

As a pediatric neurologist, Gov. Northam has seen families struggle when they receive an autism diagnosis. Some couldn’t cover the costs for treatment on their own, he says. 

“This is just such a monumental day for these families,” he said. “It gives them the hope that they need that tomorrow’s a better day for them.”

The change in coverage takes effect at the start of next year. You’ll want to check with your insurance because it applies to certain healthcare plans.

Click here to learn more about the signs of autism. 

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