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McGrady, Whitmire support autism coverage bill

Two members of Henderson County's legislative delegation were critical in support of a bill that would require employer-based insurance plans to cover treatment for patients with autism disorders.

The bill, primarily sponsored by state Rep. Chuck McGrady, was approved by the state House this week. It requires larger employee plans to cover children and adults up to age 23 for up to $36,000 per year. The state employee health plan would also have to provide autism coverage.
"We're in a minority (of states) that doesn't provide for this sort of coverage," McGrady, R-Hendersonville, said.

Rep. Chris Whitmire, a Republican from Brevard and a co-sponsor of the bill, cited Hendersonville's respected autism treatment program as a reason for his support of the bill.
"Early in the year after visiting St. Gerard House, which provides phenomenal autism services in Hendersonville, and speaking with founder and executive director Caroline Long, I knew we must address coverage shortcomings," Whitmire, who represents Transylvania, Polk and southern Henderson counties, said in a newsletter.
"On average the annual out-of-pocket expense for an autistic child is $75,000 with 86 percent of these families ending in divorce partially due to financial stress. Additionally, North Carolina is 32nd behind other states that currently provide coverage," Whitmire said.
Insurance companies, advocacy groups, doctors and behavioral experts had input as lawmakers crafted a plan that  balances the treatment needs of patients within a manageable cost framework for insurance carriers, the legislator said.