Thursday, June 07, 2007

South Carolina Legislature Overrides Veto to Pass Autism Insurance Law

By unanimous votes in both the House and Senate today, South Carolina lawmakers overrode Governor Mark Sanford's veto to pass legislation that requires health insurers to cover services for children with autism up to age 16. The bill takes effect July 1, 2008.

You can read the text of the new law here, via the Legislature's website, and more background about the new law here. The text is known as S. 20 and also as Ryan's Law, in honor of the son of one of the legislation's strongest advocates, Lorri Unumb. Lorri sent a dispatch to a list of supporters, describing the scene in the State Capitol today, when families and other supporters of the autism bill lobbied for an override vote today, less than 12 hours after the governor's late-night veto. She recounts watching the lawmakers in the House chamber, deciding to hold a roll call vote. She writes:

A roll call can be a little dangerous – the governor can see which of his friends cast affirmative votes against his veto – so I got nervous again. As each legislator cast his or her vote, his or her name on the display board changed colors. “Green” meant a vote in favor of the override, and I can’t tell you what color signified a vote to uphold the veto, because there were none! 114 members voted, and, one by one, 114 names turned green on the big board.

And then the tears began to flow. But it wasn’t just Marcella [another mother and advocate] and me crying this time. ... My husband beside me started tearing up. Derrick and Sandrine Howle in the front row were crying. Everywhere I looked around in the balcony, a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, a cousin, a friend of a child with autism was weeping. Just then, all members of the House rose to their feet, turned toward us in the balcony, and erupted into applause. They gave us an emotional standing ovation for the tireless efforts of this grassroots gang, and they clearly felt proud of helping us override what some called a “cruel” veto.

Tears, hugs, and celebrations continued in the lobby of the State House, with senators and legislators coming out to greet and congratulate us. So many expressed the sentiment that they were honored to be part of this effort, which to them represented the political system at its purest – citizens petitioning their government for help and succeeding (though not without great difficulty and heartache).

What's interesting about this victory by autism advocates is the perseverance involved. One can imagine that, over the course of two years spent lobbying lawmakers, there were other things that they might have had to accomplish. While they were explaining to countless people why autism services are important, there could have been doctors' appointments for their children. When they were spending time building awareness about the benefits of such services, and arguing why people across the state should help pay for them, they might have had to work on their kids' individualized education programs. Or home behavior management strategies. Or, perhaps, making a living.

And when the governor vetoed the bill, late at night, Lorri Unumb and her fellow advocates could have folded. But they didn't. They were at the State Capitol less than 12 hours later, urging support one more time. And they won.

So, why did Gov. Sanford veto this bill? Well, as he explains in this veto message (a PDF file), he thought it cost too much, an estimated $10 million in its first year, that would add a projected $48 to the average citizen's health insurance premiums. He also objected to the idea of a government mandate for health care when, in his opinion, the free market is best at keeping costs down and deciding what should be covered. Lastly, Sanford said that the state was spending more on special education services and that these should benefit autistic children and their families.

The governor is a Republican, but so are a majority of members in both the House and Senate. And they, members of both parties, today voted unanimously to override Sanford's veto.


Anonymous said...

A huge thank you is due to Lorri Unumb for taking on this cause. She's right. The typical parent of an autistic child has their hands full 24/7 with typically no time or money to spend on fighting insurance companies.

Sadly, most schools are pathetic in their ability to understand autistic children, let alone provide services. My child with Aspergers Syndrome (on the autism spectrum) did amazingly well with private services until she reached age 5 and the school had to provide services. Basically, she backslid so much that it undid what we'd worked so hard to accomplish.

I struggle with the schools on almost a daily basis in different states because we are a military family. Maybe we'll end up back in South Carolina some day where my husband and I first met and our daughter can finally get some quality care.

However, I'm sure the services there are going to be inundated and there will be a huge wait list until things even out after this bill goes into effect. All states should follow suit.

What states and society need to understand is that an investment in a child today goes a long way into preventing them from needing ongoing care in adulthood. What's best for the child is also best for society in this case. Thanks for sharing this story and I hope others are inspired to follow suit.

Michael Goldberg said...

Thank you for visiting and posting such a thoughtful comment. Michael

Anonymous said...

I would like to know how does this governor feel after his veto on such important piece of legislation was passed 100% in both chambers. It's shameful to see such a politician rationalizes his careless decision by talking about cost instead of appologizing when we're spending billions of dollard in a war that should't been fought. I hope he'll not be on the ballot next election.