Georgia Senate unanimously passes Ava’s Law

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ATLANTA, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – State lawmakers are one step closer to providing insurance coverage for children with autism.

The Georgia State Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 1, 54-0 on Thursday. It would require insurance companies to cover autism therapy for children younger than six. Supporters say early intervention can help children with autism learn to speak and lower later health care costs.

The bill would cap coverage at $35,000 and wouldn’t apply to companies with 10 or fewer workers. It is the first piece of legislation voted on by the Senate this year.

Sponsor Republican Sen. Charlie Bethel says one in 64 children in Georgia will be diagnosed on the autism spectrum. He adds if left untreated, a child could cost taxpayers $3.2 million over the course of his or her life for services.

"The state is leading the charge to make sure that we’re finding solutions for Georgia families, but also benefit the entire state," Bethel told 41NBC.

The senator also released the following state after SB 1 passed:

“My Senate colleagues have spent a great deal of time understanding the depth and complexity of this issue. It’s clear today that we all saw the bigger picture—and that’s the reality of a Georgia where we haven’t acted to address this issue. SB 1 will provide some much needed financial and emotional relief to parents by expanding access to early intervention and behavioral therapy programs. I hope my colleagues in the House will take a similar path with SB 1 in order to give autistic children in our state the chance to reach their full potential in life.”

Senate Bill 1 now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration. A similar proposal stalled there last year. House Speaker David Ralston has said he doesn’t support higher insurance costs for small business owners.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.