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A Lesson in Coalition Building

This is a guest post by Bill Bolster, Autism Speaks Missouri Chapter Advocacy Chair.

A three-year lesson in democracy and autism in Missouri closed in twenty-five minutes on May 12 when HB 1311 passed the Missouri Senate after passing in the House, minutes prior. The bill, which will require health insurance coverage of the diagnosis and treatment of autism, then went to the Governor for execution into law. After the filing of countless bills over the last several years that received the attention and collective efforts of Missouri’s autism community, companion bills in the State Senate and House finally allowed Missouri to go “green” in 2010.

I entered this process in the spring of 2008 when I contacted a state representative and a state senator to consider filing bills. In both cases, a bill was filed. I was thrilled and I thought the proverbial train had finally left the station! However, I learned all too quickly that I had no control over the train and nobody in the legislature seemed to care about my train. 2008 proved to be more of a coalition-building year. The legislature adjourned in May 2008 without action on the bills. Even so, I learned that there were countless families and organizations in the autism community who supported this autism insurance reform legislation, but had never collaborated on such a matter.

With the introduction of Lorri Unumb of Autism Speaks to the process, a group of ten or twelve people gathered in the summer of 2008 to draft a bill that everyone could support. The draft bill went through countless revisions to reflect the input of the autism community in Missouri. The result of this collaboration led to the filing of bills in the House and Senate in 2009. These bills were heard in House and Senate committees and the autism community began and sustained a more concerted and coordinated effort. Even though the 2009 bills did not see passage, awareness was raised at the state capitol about the issue and need for autism insurance reform for families in Missouri.

Our coalition remained strong and resilient as we gathered again in the summer of 2009 to modify bill that had been introduced in the previous legislative session. With another year of experience in our pockets, along with bills filed in both chambers that had strong support from Republicans and Democrats, as well as strong medical, legal and moral arguments that lent support to each word of the bills, we went to work as a community to prepare for the 2010 session. From all corners of the state, we worked together on weekly phone calls, attended hearings as a group and pushed for passage as one community voice.

With the amount of awareness that had been raised during the last two years in the legislature and with the strong vocal support of the governor, we thought we might see passage of our bill as early as the first half of the 2010 legislative session. When this deadline passed, our coalition continued to fight for passage. On the third to last day of the session we finally watched our bill pass the legislature. While passage of the bill brings insurance coverage to the families that need it for diagnosing and treating autism, Missouri autism community benefited from this experience in a way that is even more significant. We have formed a coalition of families and organizations that have learned how to work together to bring about an answer to a community problem. With passage of autism insurance reform behind us, we are a community of friends and colleagues who can now work together in the future to achieve other objectives that will be of importance to families and people with autism. This is the lasting legacy of our efforts that can span generations, just as the new autism insurance reform bill will help generations of children with autism to come.

To learn more about Autism Votes, take action today on autism insurance reform legislation in your state, or find out about Autism Speaks’ federal legislative advocacy agenda, please visit www.autismvotes.org

  1. June 1, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    Many thanks to you, Bill, for your outstanding patience, fortitude, and determination in this effort to pass autism insurance reform legislation in our State of Missouri. Without your dedication, this would not have been possible! Blessings and congratulations to you!

    Joan Brennan
    St. Louis, MO
    Brennan Innovators, LLC

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