From staff and wire reports
LANSING — Michigan took a key step Tuesday toward joining a growing number of states requiring insurance coverage for autism.
The state Senate passed measures by 29-9 and 28-10 votes. Democrats supported the measures while Republicans who hold the majority in the Senate were divided. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, voted against the bills.
The bills now advance to the Republican-led Michigan House.
A previous attempt to mandate coverage for autism therapy in Michigan stalled in the Senate in 2010. But the latest measures to provide autism coverage are supported by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who has an autistic daughter.
Sen. Tupac Hunter, a Detroit Democrat and a sponsor of one the bills approved Tuesday, called the Senate approval an "important milestone."
Previous measures also have run into opposition from business and insurance groups that argue mandating coverage would raise the cost of employer-sponsored health insurance.
A measure backed by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, a Republican from Monroe, could help soften that opposition by setting up a fund to help reimburse some companies for paid claims related to diagnosis and treatment of autism. It's not yet known how much money would be included for what supporters call an autism coverage incentive fund, although some Republicans have estimated it could cost around $15 million in its first year.
The legislation would not apply to organizations that self-insure, such as some large companies.
Supporters of an insurance mandate say it would save money for Michigan service providers in the long run while helping families with autistic children. They want coverage for more intensive and costly behavioral therapies for autism, a range of disorders that hinder a person's ability to communicate and interact with others.
"Making sure health insurance plans provide coverage for autism disorders is a common sense way to ensure those diagnosed have access to the therapies and treatments that will greatly improve their quality of life and help them reach their full potential," Sen. Mike Green, a Republican from Mayville and a bill sponsor, said in a statement.
More than half the states already have laws aimed at requiring insurance companies to cover some types of autism treatments or therapies.
Some lawmakers say Michigan's plan does not go far enough. They want to require broader insurance coverage for mental illness, substance abuse disorders and pervasive developmental disorders.
Amendments that would have required mental health insurance parity failed in the Senate, but those who pushed for it voted in favor of the autism coverage bills anyway.