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Autism Speaks Honors The Nation's Top Advocates For 2014

November 17, 2014

NASHVILLE, TN -- Autism Speaks announced its 2014 advocacy awards at the 9th annual Autism Law Summit held here, presenting the Speak Out Award to Anna Bullard and her daughter Ava from Georgia. The awards are presented at the annual conference to honor those individuals and groups whose advocacy on behalf of people with autism stood out during the year.

The Speak Out Award is presented on behalf of Autism Speaks Co-founders Bob and Suzanne Wright to individuals who have gone above and beyond to promote Autism Speaks and its mission in the media. Anna Bullard (pictured right with Autism Speaks State Government Affairs Directors Judith Ursitti and Mike Wasmer) was honored this year with her daughter Ava, who has autism, for their efforts to get autism insurance reform passed in Georgia.

"You are receiving this award in recognition of your role in raising awareness of the need for autism insurance reform in media outlets across Georgia and your powerful video about your daughter, Ava, and her journey with autism," the Wrights said in their award letter. "The impact of your advocacy efforts and creativity of your video demonstrate a true commitment to spreading autism awareness and understanding to others."

More than 180 advocates from 38 states came to Nashville to attend the two-day summit. The conference addressed the latest developments with autism insurance reform campaigns, legal challenges, Medicaid changes, the Affordable Care Act, military families and adult services. During the conference, Washington was named the 38th state to enact autism insurance reform.

The Utah Autism Coalition, represented by President Jon Owen [center] and past VicePresident Christine Passey, were honored as the advocacy group of the year. Working with state Senator Brian Shiozawa, the Coalition helped make Utah the 35th state to enact autism insurance reform in April. Passey went on to win election to the Utah House of Representatives.  

The 2012 Autism Law Summit was hosted in Salt Lake City to help build the campaign that led to enactment of the bill.

Nebraska became the 36th state to enact reform on April 21 when legislation sponsored by Sen. Colby Coash was signed into law by Gov. Dave Heineman. Nebraska moms Vicky Depenbusch, Colleen Jankovich, Maria Lepinski and Cathy Martinez were honored as the Parent Advocates of the Year.

Sandi Marcus and Melissa Solares of Georgia were honored as the Grassroots Advocates of the Year for their efforts to organize families across Georgia in support of autism insurance reform legislation.

Melissa [center] and Sandi [right] were honored by National Grassroots Advocacy Director Shelley Hendrix for building an organization that will push the Georgia legislature to expand coverage from state employees to private health plans in 2015.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones was named Executive Champion for his strong advocacy on behalf of families with autism. In April, Jones cited California's Mental Health Parity Act in ordering private insurers to stop delaying and denying claims for autism treatment.

Kristin Jacobson [right], who leads California's Autism Deserves Equal Coverage, was presented a new award for her efforts to improve treatment for people with autism. Kristin helped spearhead efforts that made California the first state in the nation to respond to a July federal directive to the states to cover autism treatment through their Medicaid programs.

The Attorney of the Year was awarded to Cheryl Krause, a founding member of the Autism Speaks Legal Resource Center who was named earlier this to the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Krause wrote a friend-of-the-court brief for Autism Speaks submitted in Burke v Independence Blue Cross regarding an insurance denial for autism coverage. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently decided for the family.

Gina Green, PhD, BCBA-D, a founding Director of the Association of Professional Behavior Analysts, was honored as Provider of the Year. (Green [center] with Autism Speaks Vice President for State Government Affairs Lorri Unumb [left] and Judith Ursitti)

Judith Ursitti, who presented the award, said after her son Jack was diagnosed with autism, "I didn't know what to, so I bought a book. It was hers. Since then, so many of us have had the privilege of working alongside her."

An award was presented by Mike Wasmer to his fellow Kansan Jennifer Smith for her work as a parent advocate earlier this year in the successful enactment of legislation expanding Kansas' 2010 autism insurance reform law. The original law was limited to state employees and expanded in 2014 to cover private health plans.


The"Battle Hamster" award, presented to an advocate for their persistence in taking on autism insurance issues was presented to Paul Terdal of Oregon. Terdal [pictured (left) with Dan and Lorri Unumb]played a prominent role in the enactment of the state's 2013 autism insurance reform law, then pursued followup work with state regulators to strengthen and accelerate the coverage. 

Last Friday, his efforts bore fruit when Oregon Insurance Commissioner Laura Cali directed the state's insurers to step up their coverage of autism treatment to comply with the state's Mental Health Parity Act.