By Mike Wasmer, Autism Speaks Kansas Chapter Advocacy Chair. Mike is the parent of two fantastic kids. Although a veterinarian by trade, he became active in autism advocacy and founded the Kansas Coalition for Autism Legislation (KCAL) after his daughter was diagnosed with autism in 2001. KCAL (www.kscoalitionforautism.org) is a volunteer group of parents, medical professionals and service providers who are dedicated to advocating for legislation to benefit the autism community in Kansas and nationally. In 2010, Kansas became the 18th state to enact an autism health insurance reform bill.
I am excited about Autism Votes’ recent introduction of the Autism Votes mobile text alert campaign. By texting “AVotes” to 30644, advocates will receive action alerts to support autism-related state and federal legislation directly to their mobile phone. This tool is exactly what we need to mobilize the autism community before the opposition tries to pull a fast one on us.
Let me tell you why Autism Votes mobile is important….
In 2009, the Kansas autism insurance reform bill was stalled and time was running out for us. Opponents of our bill had mounted a strike, pressuring our supporters to vote the bill down. We had just two hours to rally our grassroots, contact key legislators, gain the votes we needed, and get the Kansas House to pass our bill, which would require health insurance companies to provide coverage of medically necessary, evidence-based autism therapies.
With the help of our friends at Autism Speaks we dug into our grassroots. We made countless phone calls, sent thousands of e-mails, and posted updates on Twitter and Facebook asking advocates to contact their legislators.
Despite our best efforts, the motion to advance our bill failed by just 10 votes.
I learned several important lessons about politics and grassroots advocacy that session. First, Shelley Hendrix is a wise woman, so listen to her when she tells you, “The political process is a roller coaster. So kids, you’d better buckle up and keep your arms and legs inside the car because it’s going to be a crazy ride.” Secondly, there is a huge difference between growing your grassroots and effectively mobilizing your grassroots. Despite all of our calls, e-mails, and social network posts, when we needed a rapid response from the troops, we had to find a way to get the word out quickly and get advocates to take action immediately.
The Kansas bill was eventually signed into law this past April, becoming the 18th state to enact autism insurance reform. However, the new law is limited in its reach and until every person with autism in Kansas has meaningful access to the treatments and therapies they need, our work here is not yet done. With the new Autism Votes mobile text alert program, we will be stronger and quicker for the 2011 legislative session. We will be able to build on the 2010 law and expand coverage to all who need it.
I encourage you to sign up for Autism Votes mobile by texting “AVotes” to 30644 today and help your state achieve autism insurance reform!