Favors, Facts, and Fishnets: Shaping Autism Law and Policy

Lorri Unumb



This session from the 2016 Michigan Autism Conference explores the evolution of autism insurance coverage, highlighting the transition from widespread non-coverage to significant reform with over 40 states enacting legislation mandating coverage for autism interventions, including ABA, since 2007. The discussion includes an analysis of the language used in autism insurance laws, a comparison of their key terms, and an overview of various health insurance plans, especially Medicaid policies.

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In 2004, the New York Times wrote that “no disability claims more parental time and energy than autism.” Families dealing with autism face many hardships, not the least of which is financial hardship. One reason for the financial hardship is the failure of the health insurance industry to cover treatments for, and sometimes even diagnosis of, autism. As recently as the turn of the millennium, it was widely accepted that health insurance did not cover even the standard treatments for autism. Since 2007, there has been a fast-moving national movement toward autism insurance reform. More than 40 states have now enacted legislation requiring insurers to cover autism interventions, including ABA. In this session, we examine the language of the autism insurance laws, including a comparison of their key terms and features. You will learn about the different types of public and private health insurance plans, with a particular emphasis on recent activity in Medicaid policies. The potential pitfalls that consumers may face when attempting to utilize benefits are discussed. Finally, effective strategies for influencing autism-related policy decisions are presented.

About the Speaker

Lorri Unumb is a lawyer, professor, and the mother of three children – Ryan (15), who has classic autism; Christopher (12); and Jonathan (8), who has Asperger’s. In 2005, she wrote groundbreaking autism insurance legislation for South Carolina (“Ryan’s Law”) that served as the catalyst for the national autism insurance movement. Lorri began her autism advocacy as a volunteer. In 2008, she was recruited by Autism Speaks to work full-time and has since testified more than 100 times on health insurance issues around the country. For her advocacy efforts, Lorri has been recognized with many awards including:

  • BACB’s Michael Hemingway Award
  • California Association of Behavior Analysts “Leadership in Law” Award
  • APBA “Jerry Shook” Award
  • NASCAR Foundation’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award

Lorri’s work has been profiled on CNN, on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” and in Town&Country magazine, from whom she received one of three 2009 “Women Who Make a Difference” awards. She is profiled in the American Academy of Pediatrics book “Autism Spectrum Disorders: What Every Parent Needs to Know.” Following law school, Lorri clerked for a federal judge and then enjoyed a fulfilling career as an appellate litigator with the United States Department of Justice. She left DOJ to become a law professor at George Washington University Law School and later served as an inaugural faculty member at the Charleston School of Law. While in Charleston, she hosted a weekly TV show called “The Law with Professor Lorri.” Lorri teaches a course at GW Law called “Autism and the Law.” She and her husband wrote the first-ever comprehensive textbook on legal issues related to autism, also called “Autism and the Law.” She also founded the Autism Academy of South Carolina in 2011.

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Below is the entire open-access version of this video. It does not contain embedded questions or interactions like the CEU version of the module.


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Lorri Unumb
Favors, Facts, and Fishnets: Shaping Autism Law and Policy
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