Lawmakers, activists and parents of children with autism celebrated at the Capitol on Friday morning after a conference committee passed “Luke’s Law,” a bill that would require insurance companies to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism for policy-holders and their children.

Currently, health insurance companies are not required to help cover the costs of autism treatment in Hawaii. But Senate Bill 791, which was introduced by Sen. Josh Green, would mandate the insurance companies cover up to  $25,000 a year in treatment until a child turns 14.

The law is named after an autistic boy from the Big Island whose family’s drawn-out struggles to afford suitable health care made him a symbol for children in Hawaii with autism.

Hawaii State Capitol with lawn

One of the first winners Friday on the final day of conference committee at the Hawaii State Capitol was a bill to require insurance companies to help cover autism treatment.

Luke and his mother Geri Pinnow attended the hearing. While hugging other advocates and holding back tears, she told Civil Beat the bill could change children’s lives.

“We’re excited, we’re so ecstatic,” Pinnow said. “I’m going to go to bed tonight and think about all the kids that are going to get help.”

Dozens of other supporters crowded into a small conference room, all wearing shades of blue to promote autism awareness.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Mike Wasmer, director of state government affairs for Autism Votes, which is the advocacy initiative for Autism Speaks.  “This is a fantastic day for families in Hawaii.”

“I think this is truly a wonderful day for the children with autism in our community,” said Rep. Della Au Belatti, who was also wearing a blue dress. “We have reached an agreement for something that has been long in the works.”

Lawmakers have tried to pass the insurance mandate several years. Similar bills were introduced over last four years, but they never passed because of opposition from insurance providers, said Green.

Currently 39 states and the District of Columbia have enacted autism insurance reform laws, according to Autism Speaks.

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