Friday, December 13, 2013

VICTORY! - Comcast/NBCU and ABA Coverage

As many of you know on April 2nd, 2013 I released "An Open Letter to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and NBCU CEO Steve Burke"

In the letter, I pleaded with Mr. Roberts and Mr. Burke as fathers to do the right thing and voluntarily elect meaningful autism benefits (ABA) to our company’s self-funded insurance plan.

I can honestly say that I thought I would be fired.

There were a few things in my favor. My new boss has been a friend since 1995 and I went to him before I released the letter and asked him for his advice before I published it. He was incredibly supportive as were all of my fellow employees.

I was also lucky enough as many of you know to develop great friendships with the Autism Speaks Government Relations Team. Peter Bell (no longer with Autism Speaks), Lorri Unumb, Mike Wasmer, Judith Ursitti and Shelley Hendrix are not just people that work at AS to me... they are my friends. They are my mentors and my confidants. They fed me so much information over the past 2 years and gave me so much support, that I do not believe for one second that I would have known how to go about pressuring my employer to change their policy. They stood ready to go and meet with Comcast/NBCU and explain how adding meaningful autism benefits would be a win/win for the company.

My friendship with them stemmed from my receiving the Speak Out Award in 2011 for “Fixing” Autism. I have written about the meaning behind the video before, but I will save you the time and let you know that the video was about autism insurance reform and my anger at my insurance provider for denying Bianca continued speech therapy because she was not showing “Significant improvement”. While some erroneously thought I somehow viewed autistic people as being broken, I was in fact talking about the system and how unfair, unjust, discriminatory and flawed it was for autistic people.

It took a while after releasing the letter, but on June 20th, things started to move. I received an email at work from the VP of Human Resources at NBCU Patricia Langer saying that CEO Steve Burke had seen the letter and that she had been instructed to reach out to me. If there was anything she could do, "Let me know" she said.

I was cautiously optimistic, and it seemed well founded as my repeated request for Lorri and her team to meet with NBCU was not well received. I sent emails and left voicemails but communication with Ms. Langer stopped. It left a pit in my stomach. I was certain that my begging for the addition of meaningful autism benefits was falling on deaf ears.

In the meantime, I considered leaving my dream job. I had applied for a position at another television station and was a finalist. Ultimately I did not get offered that job. I was honest with my potential new employer and told them that I was not certain that I could even accept the position if offered. I would have to compare what benefits were offered and decide on what was best for my daughter. I knew from a friend who worked there and has a son on the spectrum that there was no ABA benefit at the place I was applying. If I let the job I loved, it would be mostly for the money. While I was being told that I did not get the job, the person I was interviewing with (whom I have known for many years and worked for in the past) informed me to keep an eye on the job postings because he thought something else may come up and insinuated that the job was mine if I wanted it.

This job would have increased my salary by almost 42%. It would have made things much easier for my family financially. After much discussion with my family, I decided not to pursue another job. I still had work to do, and I felt like if I left I would be quitting on more than just a job. I would be quitting what has been a mission of mine for the past 3 years to get Comcast/NBCU, a Fortune 100 company to voluntarily elect to provide meaningful autism coverage.

As open enrollment came, I saw nothing in our benefits package that showed a change in coverage as it applied to autism and it made me very angry. I felt dejected and defeated. I have been running low on advocacy energy lately with a bunch of personal and financial challenges and conflicts and quite frankly, I did not know if I had another run left in me. Not pursuing a change in employment looked like it was coming back to haunt me after a summer that saw our central air need to be replaced, our man-van die and the roof on our house start to disintegrate. On top of that the freelance work that used to help me supplement my income was now all dried up.

Just for kicks... as I have done every year for the past 4 years I called Acollade and asked them if they would look into whether or not ABA therapy would be covered in 2014. After being placed on a short hold the voice on the other end said, "Oh yes... here it is. Yes we will be covering ABA therapy. It is something new for 2014. It will be covered at 85% after deductible for in-network and 65% out of network."

I thought I had heard wrong. I was sitting at my desk in our busy newsroom and broke down. I am sure the lady on the other end thought I needed help. She sounded very concerned for me. The production assistant that was sitting across from me at work tried to act as though she did not notice a 250 pound man blubbering like a baby. I asked her to please verify... and she did. She even put me in touch with somebody from Magellan who will be handling ABA.

We are still waiting for all of the details... are there age limits, what is the dollar cap? But the coverage alone is fantastic.

I did find out that the change in coverage is for ALL Comcast/NBCU employees.

That is around 130,000 employees. At 1 in 88, we can estimate that the benefit could positively impact somewhere close to 1500 families. 1500 kids. 1500 people that deserve every possibility to reach their full potential. That is simply remarkable. With the addition of one tiny benefit approximately 1500 kids have a 47% chance of reaching a normal IQ.

On a personal note, it was so great being able to deliver this news to my wife. She has been more deserving of some good news than anybody I know. This has been a very difficult year for her. On top of our financial challenges, her parents are in failing health. But hearing the joy in her voice when I gave her the news that ABA was going to be covered… let me just say… it was a great sound.

I will be completely honest. I do not know if my letter had any impact. I do not know if the change in coverage was already happening and I just happened to publish my open letter... but I know this. I don't care. It doesn't matter WHY it happened. I don't want credit, I don't need to receive a pat on the back. I am just glad it happened.

Thanks again to Lorri Unumb and my friends at Autism Speaks.

Thank you Patricia Langer Executive Vice President of Human Resources at NBCU.

Thank you to Brian Roberts and Steve Burke.

What you have done with this simple addition in coverage is a game changer on the autism health insurance reform landscape.

Thank you for this amazing holiday gift.


  1. It is hard to find the words to say thank you for your efforts. My nephew in Utah is benefiting from your dedication to reform! It is a blessing to the entire family!