COLUMBUS -- Little Lucy Borges danced, made faces and told a couple of jokes, all while Gov. John Kasich was talking about the importance of the state helping Ohioans in need.
Lucy, the daughter of former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges, was diagnosed with autism when she was 3 years old. On April 12, she held the governor's hand, asked a couple of times to speak to the crowd gathered in the Kasich's ceremonial office at the Statehouse and added her signature to a bill requiring insurance companies to cover services for residents with autism.
"You see Lucy?" the governor asked reporters. "Do you see all the hopes and dreams for this kid, for this sweet, beautiful smart little girl? If we can do something to make sure that her dreams come true, why wouldn't we do that?"
The Wednesday event was ceremonial -- Kasich signed HB 483 earlier this year, and many of the provisions in the legislation took effect earlier this month. The new autism coverage requirements technically don't kick in until next year, according to the state's Legislative Service Commission.
Still, "This should have been done before," Kasich said. "It took a long time, but it's done, and we should celebrate."
HB 463 was a larger bill that included other provisions, many related to foreclosed properties, including language barring the use of plywood to board up abandoned homes.
Lawmakers added the autism language, requiring coverage for "screening, diagnosis and treatment" services, according to an LSC analysis. " The bill prohibits a health plan issuer from terminating an individual's coverage, or from refusing to deliver, execute, issue, amend, adjust, or renew coverage to an individual solely because the individual is diagnosed with or has received treatment for an autism spectrum disorder."
The legislation outlines minimum coverage levels, including 20 visits to speech, language and occupational therapy for children younger than 14, 20 hours per week of clinical therapeutic intervention and 30 visits for mental or behavioral health outpatient services.
Among other provisions, the legislation also stated lawmakers' intent to enact a two-year moratorium on additional health care mandates and to develop potential tax credits to offset employers' costs for coverage requirements.
While there is no set count of residents with autism, the state's Legislative Service Commission, using federal data, estimated more than 25,000 Ohioans age 12 or younger may have been diagnosed with the condition.
Cheryl Grossman (R-Grove City), a former state lawmaker who pushed for passage of the bill last session, said one in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, including one in 42 boys.
"What we did in Ohio was right," she said. "I'm glad we are now the 45th state to be able to offer this coverage."
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.