The Empire State now prohibits health insurers from denying medical benefits to residents who suffer from autism spectrum disorders.

New York Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, recently signed Assembly Bill 699, establishing a law that bans the practice of limiting access to coverage for hospital or surgical services for a policyholder who suffers from autism or a related disorder, such as Asperger’s syndrome.

The new law applies to all state-regulated health insurance policies and contracts issued, renewed, modified, altered or amended on or after Jan. 1, 2007, New York insurance regulators say.

A.B. 699 was introduced by Rep. Audrey Pheffer, D-Queens, N.Y.

Lawmakers took an interest in discrimination against health plan members with autism because of reports that health insurers were denying coverage for services such as magnetic resonance imaging for children suffering from autism, regulators say.