Staff and faculty may benefit from a change in the new health insurance plan that will allow companies to cover costs for care and treatment of those diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

This is the first time UNM insurance will cover autism, according to UNM Faculty Council President Richard Holder.

“Up until now, (autism) was not covered by the University’s health plans,” he said. “Now that it will be, I think that it will make a big difference to some families.”

The plan was passed last month by the UNM Board of Regents and will take effect on July 1.

While he has not heard from staff who have been directly affected, UNM Staff Council President Gene Henley said he has heard anecdotally that this has become a concern among some staff members.

The lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism who does not have an additional diagnosis is about $1.4 million, according to a study by advocacy group Autism Speaks. For an autistic child who is affected by a secondary diagnosis, the lifetime cost could be $2.3 million.

Autism is affecting an increasing number of people in the country, and Holder said he supports assisting employees who are impacted.

“There are some faculty members who will benefit tremendously from that, so that’s to be applauded,” he said. “I think the incidence of autism is on the rise in this country and it can be very expensive to treat.”

About 1 in 68 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the United States, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2000 the rate of diagnosis was about 1 in 150.