The health care bill emerging from a key Senate committee now includes expanded independent living options and autism insurance coverage, both of which are good news for people with disabilities, advocates say.

The Senate finance committee agreed last week to include an amendment mandating insurance coverage for behavior treatments used with those who have autism. Similar legislation has passed in many states, but advocates say a federal mandate is key.

“It is now highly likely that any health care reform bill which ultimately reaches the president’s desk will end autism insurance discrimination by including the requirement that all health insurance policies cover behavioral health treatments,” said Elizabeth Emken, vice president of government relations at Autism Speaks, which advocated for the measure.

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The finance committee also opted to include the Community Choice First Option, which would offer states the ability to obtain increased federal matching funds to support individuals with disabilities who live in the community. In return, participating states would eliminate caps on the number of individuals who can live in the community.

This option has its roots in the Community Choice Act, a bill proposed in Congress, which would create a mandate for states rather than allow them an option. Advocates initially wanted a mandate to be included within the health care reform bill, but say having the option included is a step in the right direction while they continue to push for passage of the Community Choice Act.

“I haven’t talked to a single person in Congress who’s been opposed to the concept,” says Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council on Independent Living, who’s been influential in lobbying for the Community Choice Act. “The only concerns about it have been the cost.”

A final health care reform bill must be passed by the full House and Senate and signed by the president for it to become law.

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