When Seahawks general manager John Schneider and his wife, Traci, moved to the Seattle area in 2010, they discovered what an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 families already knew: Washington state has no mandate for medical insurance providers to cover costs associated with autism treatment.
The Schneiders had seen it before.
When their son Ben was three years old, Traci had to beast-quake him out of a Wisconsin bookstore as he screamed and clawed at hardcovers to slam to the ground. When he was finally diagnosed with autism later that year, new challenges lay before the family. Wisconsin—where John was director of operations for the Green Bay Packers—had no state law regarding autism and insurance coverage. So while Ben’s speech therapy was initially covered by insurance, that coverage was dropped the second he was diagnosed.
The state of Wisconsin passed legislation to require autism coverage in 2009, but the family’s new home didn’t. Though Washington has an ambiguous mental health parity law, it remains one of only 16 states without a specific insurance mandate for autism. (It costs an estimated $1.4 million to $2.3 million to provide care to a person with the disorder throughout his or her lifetime.)
The Schneiders’ response: Ben’s Fund, the nonprofit they established in 2012 to award grants to families to help pay for autism summer camps, speech therapy, therapy swings (the children often respond well to the stimulation), and weighted blankets (they also respond to the sensation provided by heavier textiles).
And with that Ben Schneider, now 12, went from being the kid his mom couldn’t take to the store to a symbol for the benefits of quality treatment: His face graces Ben Bucks, the currency at the fund’s signature event, to be held this year on May 1.
At the invitation-only Prime Time dinner and auction at El Gaucho Bellevue, which last year raised more than $250,000, the Seahawks fill in as celebrity waiters. Attendees purchase Ben Bucks, which buys footballs that Russell Wilson personally long-bombs across the dining room. Or a phone call from Marshawn Lynch. Or, as happened at last year’s event, Ben Bucks can be used to bribe a Seahawk to execute a handstand shirtless.
Who was that last player?
Says Traci: “He wouldn’t want me to say his name.”