(State House, Boston) - On August 5, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law the Autism Omnibus Bill, now Chapter 226 of the Acts of 2014. His signature came on the heels of the House and Senate's unanimous approval of the final version of the bill, which will give families, advocates and affected individuals the additional tools and resources they need to deal with autism and other developmental disabilities.
"I am grateful to Speaker Robert DeLeo for his strong leadership resulting in this important Autism legislation," said Rep. Garrett Bradley. "I am proud to have led the effort to gain the support of my colleagues and am pleased that the Senate prioritized and supported this important legislation so that it could cross the finish line before the end of this legislative session. As well, special thanks go to the dedicated and hard-working members of the Autism Commission, led by former State Representative Barbara L'Italien, whose recommendations are included in this legislation and which contributed to the successful passage of this bill."
"I'm proud to support this ground-breaking legislation to help families and individuals affected by autism. This law will make Massachusetts a national leader in providing autism services by establishing a permanent Autism Commission, requiring Mass Health to cover treatments for young people up to age 21, and allowing for the establishment of tax free savings accounts to cover disability related expenses and education," said House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop). "I thank Governor Patrick, Senate President Murray, Leader Bradley and my colleagues in the House and Senate for their work on this law."
This omnibus legislation was filed to address the growing prevalence of autism spectrum disorders among children and young adults. According to a report released March 27 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a 29% increase from 1 in 88 just two years ago.
Over the course of three years the previous Autism Commission studied the current delivery of services provided to those on the autism spectrum. In March, 2013 they released a report which identified gaps in services and supports, and made recommendations to better serve the autism spectrum population. This legislation combined many of the Commission’s recommendations.
Highlights of the bill include:
Establishes a permanent Autism Commission and provides for an Executive Director to assist the Commission in their work. The 35 Commission members will identify services and supports necessary for individuals to achieve their full potential and make recommendations and monitor the implementation of policies impacting individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The bill directs the Commission to study and make recommendations on the long-term needs for housing and employment, in addition to the areas of study and recommendations previously covered by the commission.
Directs the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) to include in its eligibility guidelines the federal definition of developmental disability for people on the autism spectrum and for those with Prader-Willi. DDS will no longer use an IQ-based eligibility requirement for adult services. This is a significant change and will expand DDS eligibility to all people with developmental disabilities who meet conditions for "substantial functional limitations."
Provides for health insurance coverage for medically necessary treatments for Mass Health recipients up to age 21. Eligible treatments include ABA behavior therapy and both dedicated and non-dedicated augmentative communication devices.
Public school special education teachers will have the opportunity to attain an "Autism Endorsement" certification - a concentration in autism coursework and training. This will ensure that the growing number of students with autism receive appropriate educational services to help them reach their potential. The endorsement will be discretionary.
Provides for the option of establishing a tax-free savings account patterned after the federal ABLE ACT legislation, which would allow disabled families to save in a 529-style plan for disability related expenses. Savings could be used for education, medical and dental care, job training, housing, transportation, financial management, home improvements, funeral and burial expenses and other uses. Contributions to the account would grow tax-free; withdrawals for qualified disability expenses would be tax-free.
Rep. Bradley said, "Those on the autism spectrum are our sons and daughters, relatives, neighbors and friends. I am encouraged that the government stepped up and met the challenge of addressing their very real needs. At heart we are a generous and caring society and these services will enable people with autism to live as normal and productive life as possible."