Lawmakers on Monday approved a gutted version of a bill that would have required the State and Schools Employee Health Insurance Plan to cover autism therapies but now is reduced to a study.

It heads to Gov. Phil Bryant for a signature.

“It’s a worthless version,” said the bill’s author, state Rep. Steve Massengill, R-Hickory Flat. “I am very disappointed, but we’ll try again next year.”

House Bill 542 says the State and School Employees Health Insurance Management Board will study whether to expand its coverage for autism and file a report with the Legislature on or before Dec. 1.

The original version had required the plan to cover diagnosis and therapies for autism.

House Insurance Chairman Gary Chism had pushed for the original version of the bill, but on Monday indicated the Senate wasn’t moving and recommended the House concur.

“We do need to do the study,” Chism said. “We need to study this and see how it’s going to work and how much it’s going to cost.”

State Insurance Administrator Richard Self said through a spokeswoman that the state plan already covers autism, but state employee Quess Hood said it does not.

Hood has a son with autism and said he has had to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for diagnosis and treatment of the disorder.

“What’s the point in studying it?” Hood said. “We know we need this. It makes absolutely no sense.”

Autism impairs communication and socialization and also results in repetitive behaviors and restricted interests.

The rate of autism has skyrocketed 381 percent in Mississippi in the past nine years, according to data from the state Department of Education.

One in 88 children now have the disorder, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. That’s 10,175 youths under the age of 21 in Mississippi alone.

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