By Ellen Moran
The Autism Insurance Resource Center at UMass Medical School’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center May 5 honored four individuals for their dedication and commitment to helping families and individuals in the autism community.
The awards were presented at a Celebration of Champions at UMass Medical School. The recipients are: Lisa A. Borges, executive director of The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, Inc.; Shannon Choy-Seymour, assistant attorney general in the Health Care Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office; Matthew R. Hemberger, senior program manager, Enhanced Coordination of Benefits Program in UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division; and Dawn M. Miller, technical services assistant at the Harvard University Library.
Joyce A. Murphy, MPA, executive vice chancellor of UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division, who gave the opening remarks, noted that the resource center was established in March 2011. She recalled listening to stories from families who were struggling to find insurance coverage for autism services and supports.
“It really is an amazing accomplishment on the forefront of groundbreaking work,” Murphy said. “Thank goodness we now have this in place.”
Hemberger was recognized for his work helping families access health insurance coverage. “Matt is one of the keys to helping families with MassHealth,” said Terri Farrell, project director for the Autism Insurance Resource Center.
“I’m just in constant awe of the work you do,” Hemberger said, thanking the resource center for the award.
Amy Weinstock, founding director of the resource center and the parent of a young adult on the autism spectrum, said Borges is a trusted advisory when she seeks guidance on an autism-related issue.
“Lisa is one of the people who, because of the foundation’s focus on helping families, understood the profound impact access to insurance would have on their lives,” Weinstock said.
Borges also received praise from Laurie and Doug Flutie for her work at their foundation. “Your commitment to the autism community is inspiring to all and we are all so proud of you,” the statement from the Fluties said.
“This really shows that working as a team is how we get things accomplished,” Borges said. She commended Weinstock and her team for their work, saying they have spent countless hours over the past five years helping families access insurance coverage.
The impetus for honoring Shannon Choy-Seymour was her work in reaching a settlement with Tufts Associated Health Plans, Inc., over allegations that it inhibited member access to treatment for autism.
Choy-Seymour praised the resource center for its support in pursuing similar insurance compliance cases. “We want to ensure that families are not forced to pay out of pocket” for autism treatments and services, she said.
Miller was honored for her advocacy in persuading Harvard University to include coverage for autism services and treatments in its insurance plans after Massachusetts passed An Act Relative to Insurance Coverage for Autism (ARICA), also known as the Massachusetts Autism Insurance Law. “She exemplifies a self-funded hero,” Weinstock said.
“I just feel so grateful to Amy and her staff for their work,” Miller said.
Carolyn J. Kain, executive director of the Massachusetts Autism Commission, said the work toward streamlining access to services for autism needs to continue. “I know they have lifelong challenges that change over time,” Kain said, “and we can’t make their lives 100 percent better, but we can make their journey better.”
Judith Ursitti, director of state government affairs at Autism Speaks, said Massachusetts was the 23rd state to pass an autism law. She said she believes in the next five years the vast majority of companies will offer autism coverage.
The Autism Insurance Resource Center was founded in March 2011 after Massachusetts passed a law that requires private insurance coverage of medically necessary autism treatment. The resource center assists families and caregivers in accessing and using health insurance to meet the needs of children and adults on the autism spectrum and assists providers, employers and educators on issues related to medical insurance for autism treatment.