Bringing the Autism Community Together at the 5th Annual Autism Law Summit
This Government Relations post is by Lorri Unumb, Senior Policy Advisor and Counsel for Autism Speaks and Summit Organizer.
“People who work together will win, whether it be against a complex football defense, or the problems of modern society.” ~ Vince Lombardi
Spoken by Vince Lombardi, the words above have never been more true than during the past three years of work by the autism community to achieve autism insurance reform in twenty-three states. As the community plans and prepares for another legislative season in the fight for reform in all 50 states, volunteer advocates from twenty-six states gathered in Washington, D.C. last weekend for the 5th Annual Autism Law Summit.
This event, which was co-sponsored by Autism Speaks and the Virginia Autism Project, brought together sixty-plus parents, providers, researchers, lawyers, lobbyists, legislators, and other interested professionals pursuing autism insurance reform legislation to learn from one another and share strategies for success. Conversations included not only advice on how to pass autism insurance legislation, but also discussions on implementation in the 23 states where reform bills have already passed.
Attendees at the summit came from Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington, DC.
Special guest speaker, Kansas State Senator Tim Owens, who championed a successful autism insurance reform bill in the Kansas legislature in 2010, spoke to the attendees on Friday about working with legislators. Senator Owens, himself a grandfather of two children on the spectrum, fought long and hard to bring about meaningful reform in his state. While Kansas is a green state on the Autism Speaks State Initiative Map, indicating that reform has been enacted, Senator Owens shared that he will not rest until all children in Kansas have access to insurance coverage for autism therapies.
Friday night brought one of the event highlights: a mock legislative committee hearing in the formal moot court room at the George Washington University Law School, where the Summit was held. Professor Greg Maggs, who is interim dean of the law school, welcomed participants to the GW community on Friday.
While the focus of the session on Friday was the passage of autism insurance reform laws, with nearly half the country having already enacted this legislation, the focus of Saturday’s session was a discussion of the implementation and enforcement of the laws. Saturday morning’s implementation panel was packed with great information for families and providers who are learning to access new insurance benefits. The panel was led by Dr. Gina Green, Executive Director of the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts, and featured lessons learned by providers from three of the earliest states to pass autism insurance reform: Susan Butler from the Early Autism Project in South Carolina; Dr. Billy Edwards from Behavioral Innovations in Texas; and Dr. Bryan Davey from ACCEL in Arizona.
Other Saturday highlights included:
- David Meador, the Chief Financial Officer of DTE Energy, discussing self-funded companies who voluntarily adopt an autism benefit, much as DTE Energy has recently done.
- Dan Unumb, attorney, providing an update on autism-related litigation, which is rapidly increasing in volume and scope.
- Lisa McHenry, the parent-plaintiff from Oregon who successfully sued her health plan for failure to cover her son’s ABA therapy.
- Dr. Jerry Shook, CEO of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, discussing trends in training and credentialing of behavior analysts.
“That was a great conference,” said conference attendee Chris Supple from Massachusetts. “I really enjoyed it, learned a great deal, and brought home some great resource material.”