In a first, a private health insurance company has launched a medical insurance coverage scheme up to Rs3 lakh for those diagnosed with autism. Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions in which patients have challenges with social skills. For example, these patients display repetitive behaviour and speech. Doctors have said that the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Star Health Insurance launched the scheme on January 29 stating that the policy will cover most in-patient and out-patient services for patients in the age group of three to 35 years. The policy will include behavioural therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. “In-patient management of medical and surgical complications associated with autism including its treatment for seizures, soft tissue and bony injuries, medical and surgical procedures for spasm of muscles and infectious diseases,” said their press release. While Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP) welcomed the policy, they said it is vital that only scientifically validated interventions are covered under the scheme. “Diagnosis and intervention for autism are often expensive and this move will benefit parents as it may reduce out-of-pocket expenses,” said Dr Samir Dalwai, who was one of the authors of IAP’s National Consensus Guidelines for autism. Star Health Insurance had started a pilot project along with a Chennai based non-governmental organisation in 2016, as a group health insurance, to study the model, after which they launched this special policy. “The premium for this policy is 23% more than routine premium as these patients are prone to injuries, fits and recurrent respiratory infections,” said Dr S Prakash,chief operating officer, Star Health Insurance Dalwai said that the diagnosis and treatment for autism falls largely in the unorganised sector, because of which many treatments that are not evidence based, are promoted by some doctors. “This, in fact ,may help regulate and offer correct interventions to children and prevent non-scientific quack therapies. This may prevent unscrupulous practices,” he said. Dipti Shah, a Dadar resident and mother of a 15-year old boy who was diagnosed with autism at the age of five, said her monthly expenses for her son’s speech and occupational therapy at a nearby private clinic adds up to Rs 30,000 a month. “I haven’t read about this policy, I think it may help many parents whose children have autism as the treatments are expensive,” she said.A 2011 census showed that 2.2 million children in the age group of two to nine years in India have autism.