Senator Fuschillo And Assemblywoman Pheffer Announce New Law To Protect Autism Patients From Insurance Discrimination

Charles J. Fuschillo Jr.

September 21, 2006

Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (8th Senate District), and Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer (23rd Assembly District) today announced the enactment of a new law, which they sponsored, that will help protect autism patients from discrimination by ensuring that services for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder are covered by health insurance.

"It is the essence of discrimination that people with autism were being denied insurance coverage for certain medical treatments that they would otherwise be covered for if they didn’t have autism," said Senator Fuschillo, a member of the Senate’s Health Committee. "With the enactment of this new law, New York State can now ensure that coverage is not denied solely because of an autism diagnosis. This is a tremendous victory for autism patients and their families."

"This new law is a vital first step in promoting awareness and treatment for these disorders. I will continue to work with my colleagues to examine not only insurance coverage issues, but also to look at the programs provided for treatment and find methods to possibly improve access to and content of these programs," stated Assemblywoman Pheffer.

"Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that impacts the families of affected individuals almost as much as those who have autism themselves," Superintendent of Insurance Howard Mills stated. "Governor Pataki has fought to expand the availability of health insurance coverage for children and all New Yorkers, and it is only right that those who struggle with autism spectrum disorders have equal access to the same medical care as everyone else."

The new law will help protect autism patients from discrimination by ensuring that services for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder are covered by health insurance. State regulated insurance companies whose policies provide coverage for hospital, surgical, or medical care will no longer to be able to exclude coverage for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions otherwise covered by the policy solely because the treatment is provided to diagnose or treat autism.

The law also defines autism as a neurobiological disorder instead of a mental health disorder. Some insurance companies denied coverage for autism because they classified it as a mental health disorder instead of a physical condition.

Merrick resident Michael Giangregorio, who is the father of an autistic child, praised the new law. "As a parent I’m elated and grateful to Senator Fuschillo and Assemblywoman Pheffer for their leadership on the insurance issue. Now a diagnosis of autism can no longer be held against my son Nicholas or any other person with the diagnosis of autism. I no longer have to here ‘Mr. Giangregorio, although your insurance coverage provides for Speech Therapy, your son's therapy will not be covered because your son has a diagnosis of autism.’"

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. The result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain, autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Patients typically have difficulties interacting with others, communicating both verbally and non-verbally, and engaging in leisure or play activities.

While autism spectrum disorders cannot be cured, medical or psychological interventions can help children cope with and overcome autism-related disabilities.

The new law takes effect on January 1, 2007.