Recharging for the Next Health Care Fight

By Jill Zorn  |

The recent Families USA Health Action 2018 conference offered a chance for health advocates to take stock of our victories and recharge for the next fight for quality, affordable health care for all.

Attendees consisted of activists and policy experts barely recovered from the last year’s Herculean struggle to preserve the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and enrollment assisters just coming off an abbreviated but still highly successful ACA enrollment season.

The exhaustion in the room was palpable.  Yet, from the opening of the conference on January 25 through the closing session two days later, you could feel the energy level rising as people geared up for the next round of fights – not only to protect the gains we have made, but to get ready for bolder action.

Looking Back:  The Inspiration of Grassroots Activism

The conference began with a look back, starting with a panel of grassroots heroes.  Speakers from ADAPT, Little Lobbyists, The Dream.US and Indivisible put a face on the people-powered resistance efforts to block repeal of the ACA and stop draconian Medicaid cuts.

Don’t get me wrong, the left-of-center policy establishment in DC, the Protect Our Care Coalition, also had a lot to do with stopping repeal, and it was great to hear from them, too, in the session that followed.

But it was telling that the conference opened featuring organizations that helped hundreds of thousands of ordinary people to organize against repeal.  It was inspiring to hear from people who had literally put their bodies on the line.  And it was heart-wrenching hear from a Dreamer, when the lives of young immigrants are still so threatened by our toxic politics.

Looking Ahead:  The Importance of the Message

During the conference we heard from several people on how to improve communicating the message for universal health care.

  • Your message should communicate values and emotion: If you don’t feel it, don’t use it.
  • In the most recent effort to stop repeal, the strongest messages were about affordability and pre-existing conditions.
  • Tell stories about the individuals being affected; reminding people that this could happen to YOU.
  • People are more motivated by fear of losing something than by getting something.
  • While some people see “Medicare for All” as a hugely positive term, it doesn’t resonate for everyone. Medicare is popular, partly because of the view that “I paid for it, I earned it.”  But Medicare for All is different for some, who worry they are going to lose something if someone else is gaining something.  In other words, they view health care access as a zero-sum game.

Calling Out Racism

Two very powerful sessions focused on the ways that racism continues to undermine health.  Dr. Camara Jones, used a story, the Gardeners Tale, to illustrate the destructive power of structural racism.  Dr. David Williams presented data from a series of new studies, Discrimination in America, that highlight huge racial disparities in health outcomes and health treatment in our country. And Connecticut’s own Tekisha Everette of Health Equity Solutions, also spoke on the panel.

Another session focused on the health crisis in Puerto Rico.  Chronically under-funded for years, because of a Medicaid block grant that has not kept pace with need, the island’s health care system is now even more devastated due to Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

What’s Next

One other takeaway from the conference was the continued fragmentation that exists in the focus of state-based health advocates.  Those from red states are still fighting for Medicaid expansion.  If their states already expanded Medicaid, many are now fighting against regressive policies like work requirements, recently approved in both Indiana and Kentucky, or proposals to put lifetime limits on Medicaid.

While advocates from blue states don’t face these kind of battles, they certainly can’t rest easy, at least until the next election cycle.  With Congress and the Trump administration still aiming to damage health programs, it is more important than ever for these states to advance progressive health care policies that expand coverage, stop wasteful health industry profiteering and improve health.

Despite the variation and the seriousness of the challenges that lie ahead, Health Action 2018 participants left the conference with renewed energy, ready to keep fighting for quality, affordable health care for all.

Conference Resources

Go HERE to see the full conference agenda, which includes many of the PowerPoint presentations and a few videos.

Watch the video of the opening plenary session, Faces of the Movement.  To be really inspired, go to around the 31 minute mark to be reminded of the heroism of the people with disabilities who kept chanting, “No cuts to Medicaid, save our liberty!” as they were being dragged from their wheelchairs and arrested.  One ADAPT activist stated her motivation very clearly, “I’d rather go to jail than die.”

Read this account of the conference by Andrew Sprung (@xpostfactoid on Twitter) published by Crooked Media.

Watch this 20 minute TEDx talk by Dr. Camara Jones, Allegories on Race and Racism, which includes her story, the Gardener’s Tale.