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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Colorado Mandate at Work

The Boulder Daily Camera reports on autism mom Jill Tappert, who helped lead the successful effort to pass an insurance mandate in Colorado:

"What makes me mad," says Tappert, "is that someone could choose to go out and skydive, crack open his head, and insurance would cover the cost of treatment, of rehabilitation, for however long it takes.

"My daughter was born with autism, and that wasn`t covered. Autism was often specifically excluded in policies -- the only medical disorder excluded. It was discrimination."

The families saw the campaign turn their way when they told their compelling stories to their own district legislators. Nearly every lawmaker heard from a constituent with an autistic child.

"We have contact information for families with autism, so we knew where they lived, and we knew what districts they matched," [Autism Society's Betty ] Lehman says.

"Those families went to work."

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, was one of the most outspoken opponents of the legislation. He declined to talk about his reasons now.

The Senate sponsor, Brandon Schaffer, D-Longmont, recalls the bill signing. A father of two came up to him, crying, and said, "You have no idea what this means to us."

"It really was amazing," Lehman says. "Families were crying, hugging each other, clapping. My own autistic son was hugging me. This was the result of a true grassroots movement."

Now, when she gets tearful phone calls from families who have learned they have an autistic child, she often has good news. If their policy is governed by Colorado law, their child`s treatment is covered.

"Before this law, your child`s physician would say, 'The bad news is that your child has autism,'" says Lehman, who has a 22-year-old autistic son of her own. "Then he`d say, 'But the good news is that it`s treatable.` And finally, he`d say, 'But the bad news is you can`t afford that treatment.'"