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Tough Cookie

This post is written by Shelley Hendrix, Autism Speaks’ Director of State Advocacy Relations. She currently resides in Baton Rouge, La. with her two children, Liam and Mairin. Liam was diagnosed with autism age the age of two in 1998. She began advocating on behalf of her son and other children with autism almost from day one.

Passing autism insurance reform legislation has been one tough cookie indeed!

In 2007, when Autism Speaks launched the Autism Votes program and Government Relations Department, three states had meaningful insurance coverage for children with autism.  Today, three years later, our community has enacted legislation in 20 more states in an unprecedented wave of reform across the United States. It has been three tough years and we still have a long way to go to achieve reform for meaningful health insurance coverage for every person with autism in our country, but we are well on our way!

In both our Federal and State-based legislative initiatives, Autism Speaks uses a specific formula – our “cookie recipe.” My last couple of blogs has focused on each of the ingredients in our recipe – why we need them, what purpose they serve and how they should be blended together.  Flour represents our grassroots effort.  Eggs represent unity and focus of our community.  Butter which represents professional lobbyist assistance. A pinch of salt represents the bill’s legislative champion and sugar represents the policy.  Each state’s “cookie,” their autism insurance reform initiative, is shaped, flavored and decorated differently once we bake them but by following the cookie dough recipe we have a tasty treat in the end for people to enjoy.

We made our dough and it is chilling in the refrigerator while we get out the cookie cutters, the rolling pin and the sprinkles to decorate the cookies. Passing a good bill, that achieves our number one goal of the highest coverage for the most children, is our aim.  Politics is the ultimate art of negotiation – start high and work down through all interested parties – the parents, the children, the community as a whole, the legislators and the executive branch – to roll out a bill that the parties can agree to and – here is the key word – enforce.

Cookie dough is just cookie dough until you bake it. Similarly, a bill is just a bill – words on paper that might read well but have no true impact – until it becomes a law and actually affects change.

Before we roll out that dough, we preheat our ovens and begin to make visits in the off season to legislators.  We start a buzz that heats up our issue long before we put the dough in the oven.  We sprinkle out a little more flour on our countertops and start rolling our dough to shape it for each state.  We lay the cut out cookies on the sheet and sprinkle them with the final touches. We always make sure to put on our oven mitts so we don’t burn our hands.

As the cookies begin to bake, they start to smell great.  We can almost taste them.  But we can’t take them out too early or we will just have hot dough!  We can’t leave them in too long or they will burn up, be inedible and we will have to start over.  We have to put them in and check on them throughout the process to make sure we have baked the best cookie that we can bake.

Do you live in a state that doesn’t have “cookies” yet?  Are you drooling to have some?  We could always use more flour!  Get involved.  We make things easy for you to get scooped up at Autism Votes.  We send you easy action alerts to follow so you know just what to do, how to act and when to act.  We even provide scripts to help you make your phone calls and send e-mails.

We need more help at every level so if you have ever had someone say to you, “I wish we could help you and your family!” here is a low-cost, high yield way that they can do just that.  Ask your family members, co-workers, therapists, teachers, neighbors and friends to sign up at www.autismvotes.org this week.

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.

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