Deal’s 2018 state budget proposal could be a win for autism advocates

Jan. 11, 2017 - Atlanta - Gov. Deal acknowledges applause as he finishes his speech. Nathan Deal delivered his State of the State address for 2017 before a joint session of the General Assembly. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

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Jan. 11, 2017 - Atlanta - Gov. Deal acknowledges applause as he finishes his speech. Nathan Deal delivered his State of the State address for 2017 before a joint session of the General Assembly. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Georgia autism advocates are celebrating Gov. Nathan Deal's plan to include $20.8 million to help cover autism services for children on Medicaid, part of his broader push for a record $25 billion budget in fiscal 2018.

Deal unveiled the funding proposal earlier this week during his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly. Advocates had lobbied for the change but had been unsure he would do it.

Coverage for kids with autism have expanded notably in Georgia with help from state officials. The state health plan added coverage for autism services for kids a few years ago, and lawmakers in 2015 passed a mandate requiring private insurers to cover autism services for children up to the age of 6.

Anna Bullard, whose daughter, Ava, inspired the 2015 law, said advocates hope to convince lawmakers to raise that age cap. But she said they were also thankful for their successes.

“The governor added coverage for state employees with the state health plan in 2014, Ava’s Law finally passed in 2015 and now we close the gap with the Governor adding Medicaid coverage for autism this year,” said Bullard, adding that advocates were thankful to Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle “for their passion and commitment to Georgia’s children and families. Lives will be changed forever and today families have hope that they have never had.”

Advocates on Feb. 13 will hold their annual “Autism Day” to lobby at the state Capitol.