The Autism Speaks Autism Legal Resource Center was created in December 2012 to help protect the legal rights of people with autism through an initial focus on insurance law. The Center was created to fill a void in a rapidly emerging field of law to expand the reach of autism insurance coverage, help enforce insurance reform laws, regulations and court orders already in place, and to intervene strategically in potentially precedent-setting cases. The Center's Executive Director is Dan Unumb, JD. who brings 17 years of experience in law, much of it involving autism insurance issues. Dan and his wife, Lorri, Autism Speaks Vice President of State Government Affairs, have worked for autism insurance reform.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism now affects 1 in every 88 American children, including 1 of every 54 boys, and has risen dramatically. The cause of the developmental disability is unknown but both genetic and environmental factors are suspected. When diagnosed at an early age, autism can be successfully treated through beha nivioral health treatments, such as Applied Behavior Analysis. But the insurance industry, has routinely refused to cover the treatments, which can cost $60,000 a year or more, prompting the enactment of autism insurance reform laws to stop discrimination against people with autism.
Working with local advocates, Autism Speaks has helped manage the enactment of autism insurance laws now in effect in 32 states and assisted major employers in voluntarily offering coverage for autism benefits in their health plans. In Washington, Autism Speaks has worked to reform autism insurance coverage for military families and federal employees, the nation’s single largest workforce. But compliance with these requirements has led increasingly to regulatory orders and legal action, underscoring the need for a strong enforcement component.
The Autism Legal Resource Center will:
- strategically develop and enforce key legal precedents
- organize and train attorneys
- coordinate legal resources
- serve as a clearinghouse for legal information and assistance to attorneys, agencies, providers, and affected individuals and families
The center will also work with judges and lawyers to raise awareness of legal issues pertaining to autism and serve as an incubator for novel approaches to resolve issues.
The center will focus on enforcing insurance reform laws, pursuing Medicaid coverage, and establishing precedential case law to refute common sources of insurance denials. In addition, the center will create an Autism Legal Network with groups of attorneys to provide legal advice to families, coordinate litigation and assist regulators in the implementation and enforcement of autism insurance law.
In potentially high impact cases, the Center will handle litigation directly with local counsel or as co-counsel, or through filing Amicus briefs.