Although President-elect Obama has made expanding access to health care and health coverage a cornerstone of his agenda, the Autism Partnership - an advocacy group based in Seal Beach, Calif. - cautions the adminstration and the general public against neglecting a particularly vulnerable group: children with autism.

Autism, also called autism spectrum disorder, is a pervasive developmental disability, typically characterized by delayed speech, impairments in social interaction and certain repetitive behaviors. Autism is the most prevalent disorder afflicting children; the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimate that one in every 150 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder. Although eight states have enacted coverage mandates for autism treatments, ERISA provisions prevent a national mandate.

Critics of coverage mandates usually suggest that requiring insurers to cover such treatments raises the cost of health care coverage for everyone. Proponents say covering early and aggressive treatment for autism can lessen costs over the long-term.

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