The bill calls for coverage for autism services for all children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder by the age of eight, and to last through the child's sixteenth birthday. The bill if approved would become effective July 1, 2008. A key nugget of the bill's text says:
A health insurance plan as defined in this section must provide coverage for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder. Coverage provided under this section is limited to treatment that is prescribed by the insured's treating medical doctor in accordance with a treatment plan. With regards to a health insurance plan as defined in this section an insurer may not deny or refuse to issue coverage on, refuse to contract with, or refuse to renew or refuse to reissue or otherwise terminate or restrict coverage on an individual solely because the individual is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
You can see the text of the bill (number S. 20), here, via the South Carolina General Assembly's website. Lawmakers report in this documentation that they expect the bill to cost an estimated $10.6 million per year, with about 60 percent to be borne by employers who provide health insurance; the rest would come from federal funds paid to the state. To put the bill's price tag into perspective, Gov. Sanford proposed a $6.5 billion budget for the state this year. If the estimate for the health insurance bill is accurate, that cost would amount to 1.5 percent of the state budget.
That's not a trivial amount, especially when you're talking about employers bearing much of the cost. But one could argue that the investment in children's development will help save money down the road, because the children who receive effectively delivered services will have less intense needs when they get older.
That's one argument; clearly there were enough arguments in favor of the bill to win unanimous support in the South Carolina Senate and House.
Another name for the bill is Ryan's Law, in honor of the six-year-old son of Lorri Unumb, a leading advocate for the bill.