Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Public Interest Lawyers Show Interest in Autism

Sept 28, 2010 This is a guest post by Lorri Unumb, Autism Speaks senior policy adviser and counsel. Lorri also teaches “Autism and the Law” at the George Washington University Law School.

Autism is a hot topic for discussion at various types of conferences these days, from epidemiologists to economists to educators. You still, however, don’t often see autism on the agenda at legal conferences. That’s why I was so excited over the summer to have the opportunity to speak about autism legal issues at a national conference of legal aid attorneys and encouraged by the keen interest demonstrated by the lawyers in attendance.

Every state in the nation has at least one legal aid organization, which provides legal services to the poor, and a protection and advocacy organization, which provides legal services for the disabled. Lawyers who work at these organizations, as well as public defenders (who work in the criminal arena), are typically members of the National Legal Aid & Defenders Association (NLADA). As set forth in its website ( NLADA champions effective legal assistance for people who cannot afford counsel, serves as a collective voice for both the civil legal aid and public defense communities throughout the nation, and provides a wide range of services and benefits to its individual and organizational members. Founded in 1911, NLADA is the oldest and largest national, nonprofit membership organization devoting all of its resources to promoting justice for all in the United States.

Among its activities, the NLADA holds national conferences and trainings for public interest lawyers. My husband, Dan Unumb, who is Director of Litigation at South Carolina’s legal aid organization, proposed trainings on “Representing Families with Autism” for two of NLADA’s summer conferences held jointly in July in Chicago. NLADA enthusiastically accepted and supported the proposal.

The first workshop was presented as part of the Litigation and Advocacy Directors Conference, which is designed for experienced litigation and advocacy directors to assist them in identifying, promoting, and pursuing cutting-edge legal issues in their programs. A panel of five legal experts educated the attorneys on autism legal issues ranging from health insurance to special education to Medicaid. Presenting attorneys included Sue Tobin of Ohio Legal Rights Service and Sarah Somers of National Health Law Project on Medicaid issues, Tracey Spencer Walsh of Mayerson & Associates on special education law, and Dan and me on health insurance and other autism-related issues.

The second workshop was geared to front-line legal aid attorneys who handle day-to-day representation of low-income or disabled clients. At this workshop, Dan and I were joined by Kirby Mitchell, Managing Attorney of one of South Carolina Legal Services’ largest offices, to present a broad overview of legal issues surrounding autism including health insurance, special education, Medicaid and life-planning issues such as guardianship, conservatorships, custody and child support, hospital collection defense cases, bankruptcy, Medicaid trusts, tax planning, and Social Security disability actions.

The range of legal issues a family affected by autism may face is vast, and the need for lawyers, judges, and judicial staff to be educated on them is equally great. This outreach is critical to improving legal representation, judicial decisions, and the overall response of the legal system to the complex challenges posed by autism. This summer’s presentation was a good step in the right direction, and Autism Speaks is committed to making further inroads toward ensuring effective legal representation of families with autism.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sharron Angle Pans Mandated Health Care Coverage For Autism Treatment, Maternity Leave (VIDEO)

Speaking at a Tea Party rally last year, Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle appeared to mock the notion that health care coverage for autism treatment and maternity leave should be mandated.

"Take off the mandates for coverage in the state of Nevada and all over the United States," she charged in making remarks that were captured on camera and now are being circulated by the Nevada State Democratic Party. "You know what I'm talking about. You're paying for things that you don't even need. They just passed the latest one, is everything that they want to throw at us now is covered under 'autism'."

In video shot of Angle making the criticism, she can be seen making air quotes as she says "autism."

The Tea Party darling went on to say, "So, that's a mandate that you have to pay for. How about maternity leave? I'm not going to have anymore babies, but I sure get to pay for it on my insurance. Those are the kinds of things that we want to get rid of."

Advocates want ND insurance coverage for autism

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota's Legislature should require insurers to help pay for treatment of children with autism, advocates say.

Autism is a brain disorder that affects a person's ability to relate to others, and affects children in different ways. Experts say childhood therapy for autism spectrum disorder is important, but extensive behavioral therapy can cost more than $70,000 for a year of treatment.

A North Dakota legislative committee is considering a bill to require the health insurance plan for state workers to cover treatment for autism disorders. The committee's chairman, Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, said the panel will decide in October whether to recommend that the Legislature approve the idea next year.

An analysis by Deloitte Consulting LLP estimates the mandate could increase the state health plan's expenditures by almost $3 million annually.

Nicholas Gates, a Dickinson police officer, asked lawmakers on Tuesday to support the measure. He was accompanied by his 8-year-old son, Noah, who stood shyly by his father's side and said little. Nicholas Gates said his son was diagnosed in late 2005.

"When Noah was first diagnosed, we were very overwhelmed. We didn't know where to turn, especially when we were told that our son needed specific treatment, and we weren't able to get that because our insurance company would not cover it," Gates said. "We were able to get some therapies ... but we were unable to get the social and behavioral therapies that Noah required."

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 110 children has an autism spectrum disorder. In 2006, the average prevalence for 8-year-old boys was eight per 1,000 children, the agency said. The spectrum occurs more often in boys than girls.

At least 21 states require insurers to provide treatment for autism, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures