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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Alaska and Arizona: Lifting Up States Voices to Protect Our Care

Heather Bates

Director of Community Engagement

At the end of July, health care supporters prevailed over lawmakers who sought to pass destructive legislation that would have stripped millions of people of their health coverage and cut Medicaid for seniors, children, and people with disabilities. 

Our country owes much of this victory to advocates and constituents in key states who spent the past eight months organizing to protect our care from this harmful bill. Working with Families USA and other national partners, state consumer health advocates used an array of tactics that made an enormous contribution to the campaign to protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid.

Through rallies, town halls, meetings, press and social media engagement, calls and letters to Congress, state-focused policy analysis, and other critical tactics, these state organizations raised public awareness of what was at stake and put pressure on lawmakers to oppose the harmful legislation.

However, our work is not done. We stand ready to protect the Medicaid program from additional threats, to ensure that the CHIP program continues to make coverage available for low- and moderate-income children, and to protect the ACA from any future repeal attempts. But we are hopeful that the successful defeat of the Senate repeal bill, much due to the organizing of advocates and constituents in key states, has paved the way for bipartisan legislation in Congress that will improve care and lower costs for people across America. 

Here we highlight Families USA’s partners in Arizona and Alaska, whose work contributed immensely to the defeat of the bill to repeal the ACA in Congress. Their efforts serve as a model for other state advocates aiming to work with Families USA and other national partners to defeat federal proposals that will harm residents’ access to high-quality, affordable health care. 

Arizona deployed creative tactics nonstop to protect health care

It took a village to ensure that Arizonan voices to protect health care were lifted up and heard across the state, all the way to the U.S. Capitol. 

Families USA worked with the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers (AACHC) to brainstorm the key messages to focus on and the main populations to highlight and educate in order to put a human face on the impact of repeal in Arizona.  Together we were able to give lawmakers the data to inform the best policymaking decisions on health care for Arizona. 

Arizona advocates and Families USA determined that highlighting the impact of repeal on the 45,000 veterans who rely on Medicaid across the state would be critical information for Senators McCain and Flake, both of whom are strong supporters of veterans in the state. 

Our partners at AACHC also took action to highlight the economic damage ACA repeal would cause in Arizona, where repeal would lead to the loss of over 12,000 jobs. Together, we amplified the fact that repeal would not only harm individuals, but its economic impact would also create a ripple effect statewide. 

“The mission of Community Health Centers is to expand access to comprehensive, primary health care for everyone, so we knew that it was imperative to fight any effort to repeal the ACA without a well thought-out replacement that provided access to quality health care. Such an effort required solid partnerships with strong, capable organizations, like Families USA. We appreciate the resources, direction, and ongoing support we received from Families USA. Our success in defeating congressional efforts to repeal the ACA without a replacement is due, in large part, to our large coalition of capable healthcare advocates. AACHC values our ongoing relationship with Families USA.”

—Tara McCollum Plese, Chief External Affairs Officer, Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers

AACHC also partnered with other Arizona groups to host and participate in rallies, town halls, educational calls, and press events to educate the public and demonstrate to Arizona’s congressional representatives that support for the ACA and Medicaid in Arizona is high.

To ensure that Arizona members of Congress heard directly from constituents about the need to protect health care, AACHC also conducted a postcard campaign to urge Arizonans to reach out to their senators to explain to them why health care matters to Arizona. This campaign was featured on Families USA’s June Health Action webinar as a model that other state partners could consider in their advocacy.

The Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers and partners in the coalition to Protect Arizona’s Healthcare held a rally on March 23, the anniversary of the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, to urge Congress to vote against repeal and protect health care for Arizonans.

In addition, AACHC and Families USA sent email alerts to their networks in the state urging turnout at events so that constituents could raise their voices throughout Arizona. With social media and press amplification, their voices could make it all the way to Washington.  

To combat all the noise on health care repeal coming from Washington that confused and even frightened Arizonans about their coverage options, AACHC continued to promote the ways people could get health coverage by lifting up enrollment assistance efforts statewide and promoting Medicaid and CHIP coverage opportunities, and sharing the stories of consumers still gaining access to coverage. Families USA greatly values the partnership of the Arizona Alliance of Community Health Centers. AACHC and their network across Arizona pushed out the facts on the consequences of health care repeal for Arizona, and the work they did made an immeasurable impact.

Alaska coalition tactics made an impact across the state

The organizing of residents throughout Alaska to protect health care was undoubtedly critical to the defeat of the harmful repeal bill in Congress. At the outset of repeal threats, Alaska organizations and constituents partnered with Families USA to mobilize by forming the coalition of Protect Our Care (POC) Alaska.

The coalition worked with Families USA to build a website, conduct educational forums, and hold individual meetings with Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. Families USA policy and campaign experts were on hand to provide policy and strategic guidance as needed to members of the POC Alaska coalition, and POC Alaska members provided real-time, real-world information to the public, the media, and policymakers that demonstrated how repeal efforts would harm Alaskans.

“The success we all experienced this month reinforced the notion that we are stronger together than we are apart. By creating a safe space for individuals and organizations to work collaboratively, develop a singular voice, and to share resources, Protect our Care Alaska was able to mobilize a strong defensive.  Our coalition would not have formed without the support and encouragement of partners like Families USA.”

—Trevor Storrs, Executive Director of Alaska Children's Trust, the backbone organization for Protect Our Care Alaska

For example, misinformation about how repeal would impact the health care of Native Alaskans came from all sides. However, few understood that repeal would take away private insurance and Medicaid from American Indian and Alaska Native peoples who rely on this type of coverage for services that tribal health organizations do not cover, such as vision and specialist services. To disseminate this information widely, the Protect Our Care Alaska Coalition and Families USA teamed up on a fact sheet that was distributed across Alaska and to relevant policymaking stakeholders in Washington.

The focus on data illustrating the harm to specific communities is just one example of the critical tactics that emerged from the partnership between Families USA and Protect Our Care Alaska. Starting just days after the election up until now, the health care advocacy on behalf of Alaska consumers from our partners in Alaska’s Protect Our Care coalition has been nonstop.

Early on the coalition held forums to educate Alaska Natives and all residents from around the state about the impact of potential repeal efforts to ensure they were prepared to voice their concerns. And up until that final vote, Protect Our Care Alaska and their partners rallied, arranged meetings, organized town halls, released op-eds, helped consumers submit letters to the editor, conducted press interviews, and ensured that every Alaskan knew how to make their voice heard.

Trevor Storrs, Executive Director of Alaska Children’s Trust and coalition leader for Protect Our Care Alaska leads discussion at a March Alaska Native Healthcare Issues Town Hall Gathering to obtain input from Alaska Native leaders on efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act to forward to Alaska’s congressional delegation.

From children to seniors, it was the stories of Alaskans who would be harmed by these efforts--amplified throughout Alaska and all the way to the U.S. Capitol--that helped move the needle in the end. All the way to the evening of the vote, Protect Our Care Alaska coalition members held town hall forums shared through Facebook live videos and the coalition website to help the public understand the health and economic losses that repeal proposals would cause in the state.

There is still much work to be done – and the leadership of state advocates will be critical

In order to continue to protect our health care gains under the ACA, Medicaid, and CHIP and encourage the adoption of bipartisan solutions to improve coverage and care, we will continue to rely on partnership with creative and innovative state advocates who elevate voices and policy needs from their states.

The leadership of state advocates will be critical in the next phase of defending health care. This includes advocating for bipartisan legislation that stabilizes the market while improving coverage and care, and protecting Medicaid from cuts proposed during federal budget negotiations and tax reform. As the fifth open enrollment period approaches, state advocates will also have an important role to play in ensuring that people know how they can enroll and find coverage despite the Administration’s efforts to undermine enrollment.

Continue to follow the Families USA blog for more updates on action in the states to Protect Our Care.