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Local Spanish Fort family thrilled with passage of autism bill

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Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill Friday that affects thousands of Alabama children and their families.

The autism bill will require insurance companies to cover autism therapy.

Some parents have been fighting for this for years.

And many of those parents of children with autism drove back and forth to Montgomery for committee meetings and hearings, playing a huge role in the passage of this bill.

At 2 years old, Dru Powell's son Parker was diagnosed with autism.

Powell says applied behavior analysis therapy has helped Parker open up more around others.

"We used to say he was in his own bubble. Didn't really communicate. We thought Parker was deaf for a while. He has a difficult time looking at you when he speaks to you. But through the help of ABA Therapy he's improved tremendously," said Powell, who is the head basketball and golf coach at Spanish Fort High School.

But ABA Therapy is expensive. Powell says it's not uncommon to pay $100 an hour.

And before today, Alabama was one of just 5 states with no requirement that insurance companies cover the autism treatment.

Now, with Governor Kay Ivey's signature, House bill 284 is the law.

"This bill was about quality of life for wonderful children," said Governor Ivey.

"It's just awesome to see those senators and representatives listen to their constituents and pass a great bill for our state," said Powell.

Senator Trip Pittman of Baldwin County was the only legislator in both the house and senate to vote "no".

The law also faced pushback from the Business Council of Alabama and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

For Powell and other parents, the legislation isn't perfect.

It only applies to companies with at least 51 employees and caps coverage at 18 years old.

"Autism is a lifelong disability. You don't quit having it at 18 so I don't fully understand that one. But at the end of the day we feel like it's a win," said Powell.

The mandate for public insurance plans won't take effect until December of 2018.

Powell said there is a serious lack of qualified ABA Therapy providers in the area, specifically in Baldwin County. He has to drive his son all the way to Elberta for therapy currently.

He hopes this legislation leads to change there as well.