What you missed from the Families USA Health Action Conference

By Rosana Ferraro and Jill Zorn 


While not everybody can attend the Families USA Health Action Conference, anybody is welcome to contact us to hear Jill Zorn’s talk, called “Medicare for All: Where Policy Meets Politics.” The program includes a brief presentation about different policy proposals from Congress and presidential candidates, and an overview of the political messaging around the issue. It’s a highly interactive program that inspires lots of lively discussion. You can contact us at info@universalhealthct.org for more information!


Families USA is one of the premier health advocacy organizations in the country, and their annual Health Action Conference gives us a great overview of what are fellow advocates across the country are facing. 

It’s always striking is how varied an advocate’s experience can be depending on where they live.  Health care access and affordability varies greatly from state to state. Nonetheless, everybody at the conference shares the same goals of achieving quality, affordable, equitable health care and healthy lives for all.  

While two of us, Rose Ferraro and Jill Zorn, attended from Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, several other advocates from Connecticut were also there.  Here are some first hand highlights from our trip to the conference. 

Rose Ferraro 

To me, one of the most powerful things about the conference were the stories that were shared throughout the event. I was also compelled by the focus on health equity.  

These were some of the stories that stuck out:  

  •  This video, which was shown at the beginning of one of the plenary sessions, with real people’s top health care concerns.   
  • Peter Morley‘s story. Morely is an outspoken patient advocate struggling with his own chronic health issues, was a featured speaker.  He told us about bringing his own story and many more stories to Congress by meeting with Senators and Representatives to defend health care for all of us.   
  • Giving Birth in America: New York was the video that struck me the most.  It tells the story of doulas helping low income women in New York City; and more than that, it tells the story of the black maternal mortality crisis in this country.  Black women are dying at a higher rate during and after birth than their white counterparts.  

Giving Birth in America intersects with the many health equity concerns that were raised during the conference, as well.  Health equity, as defined in a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible...this requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.”  When we achieve true health equity, we won’t see the kinds of health disparities that we have today in our state, and across the country. 

Health equity was also a focal point of the panel which focused on the many ways immigrant health is being eroded, as well as included a victory story from California.  In California, they now cover undocumented immigrant children and adults up to age 25 in their Medicaid program (known as Medi-Cal), removing barriers to health coverage due to immigration status.  Despite threats to immigrant health, like the public charge rule, California’s success is instructive of how a state can continue to make gains in coverage and health equity, despite the current political climate in D.C.

Jill Zorn 

I participated on one panel: “Envisioning Universal Health Care”.  I spoke about the Medicare for All conversation that is underway in our country and how much the political moment, particularly the 2020 election and how the media coverage is affecting public opinion as well as the actual policies being proposed.  My co-presenters, Dr. Sanjeev Sriram and Jen Bersdale, were inspiring: 

  • Sriram, a pediatrician and health care activist, spoke about Social Security Works “All Means All” campaign, “a campaign to center racial equity and the elimination of minority health disparities in the creation of Medicare for All”. 
  • Bersdale, Executive Director of Missouri Health Care for All, explained how, even in a very red state like Missouri, where the current administration seems more interested in throwing those eligible for Medicaid off the program rather than expanding it, important discussions about Medicare for All are happening. 

California’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, was also inspirational.  He has led the charge of blue state Attorneys General, like our own William Tong, in the legal fight to protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Becerra talked about the fight to preserve health care for millions of residents, and called on listeners to have “guts, grit, and game” in their efforts to save the ACA. 

Another workshop titled “How to Counteract Pharma’s BS” was enlightening for the activist audience.  Focus groups show that the public is quite skeptical of Big Pharma’s messages and are quite aware of the predatory pricing practices that are a regular occurrence.  Presenters urged advocates to use positive messaging in their fight to make life saving drugs affordable for everybody.

The closing plenary of the conference was about a topic on everyone’s mind: the 2020 election.  Anxiety about affording health care is high and health care is clearly still a hot issue in this election cycle.  I came away from the conference re-energized to continue the fight for universal health care. 

In short, the conference was highly educational, and it demonstrated that people are fighting the same battle all over the country, in different stages. We’re feeling a lot of momentum going into 2020 to make big changes in the health care policy arena, and we hope you’ll be with us throughout. Click here to join our fight.

To see the conference agenda, go here