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Ron Pollack’s Legacy of Leadership

The Board of Directors of Families USA is extremely proud of what has been achieved under Ron Pollack’s more than three decades of extraordinary leadership.

Under Ron’s stewardship, Families USA has successfully led nationwide efforts to promote high-quality, affordable health care for everyone in the U.S. Over that time, Families USA became the voice for health care consumers in America. Its work and accomplishments have resulted in remarkable, indeed historic, changes that continue to help millions upon millions of Americans. 

Securing the adoption of major health care reform through the Affordable Care Act – Families USA has provided consistent, visible, and long-term leadership in promoting major health care reform. Throughout this work, Families USA emphasized the need to extend good health care coverage to tens of millions of uninsured and underinsured people. And, after almost three decades of active efforts in this area, Families USA’s work culminated in the passage of the landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Ron Pollack and President Obama at Health Action 2011

Families USA’s distinctive leadership role in promoting the passage of the ACA is reflected in written expressions of gratitude to Ron and Families USA inscribed on a copy of the legislation displayed in the organization’s office. Those inscriptions include President Barack Obama (“To Ron and Families USA – You made this happen!”), then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (“To Ron, Thanks for making this great bill possible”), and literally all of the House and Senate committee chairs who drafted the historic law. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, reflecting on Ron’s work over many years with Senator Edward Kennedy, wrote “To Ron – who has been in the trenches along with my Dad for the long haul & seen it through.”

Families USA’s comprehensive campaign for the passage of major health reform involved a myriad of different efforts, including:

  • “Strange bedfellow” dialogues: Families USA brought together “strange bedfellow” health sector leaders – consumer groups, insurers, hospitals, physician and nurse groups, drug companies, business and labor — for more than a year-long dialogue in search for common ground. This dialogue resulted in the groups coming together on an approach to extending health coverage through expansion of safety-net programs and subsidized private coverage, the key architecture of the Affordable Care Act.
  • Creation and use of the nation’s leading health care Story Bank: Families USA created the largest Story Bank in the country of people willing to speak publicly about their inability to secure affordable health care. Those stories resulted in literally thousands of media stories that helped to humanize the imperative for major health reform.
  • Ambulance caravans spawning rallies across the country: Families USA organized a three-week-long series of (five) ambulance caravans that crisscrossed every region of the country to mobilize grassroots activists in support of health reform. The ambulance caravans spawned over 150 rallies in virtually all of the nation’s contiguous 48 states.
  • Public clearing house for information on health care reform: Families USA prepared numerous reports documenting the widespread harm – in mortality, health status, family economics, and commercial problems for various health stakeholders – caused by many millions of people denied access to needed health care. These reports received significant public attention in the media, during hearings before congressional committees, and in public forums and were used extensively by sister consumer organizations across the country as they pushed for health reform.

Gaining more affordable health care for low-income seniors and people with disabilities—Families USA led efforts that resulted in major improvements for these vulnerable groups. Several key measures were adopted by Congress due to Families USA’s efforts: financial relief for spouses of people needing expensive long-term care; Medicaid subsidies for premiums, deductibles, and cost-sharing expenses for impoverished Medicare beneficiaries; and larger personal needs allowances for nursing home residents.

Extending and expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)—In another example of bringing together diverse “strange bedfellow” health stakeholder organizations, Families USA established the Campaign for Children’s Health Care, which brought together consumer groups, insurers, hospitals, physician and nurse groups, drug companies, business and labor to successfully extend and expand CHIP.

Creating and promoting the Patients’ Bill of Rights—Ron was appointed by President Clinton as the sole consumer representative on the national commission that crafted the Patients’ Bill of Rights. Although the proposal was not enacted by the Congress, Families USA subsequently succeeded in promoting the adoption of its provisions in states across the country.

Protecting Medicaid from proposed cutbacks—Over the past three decades, there have been numerous attempts to cut Medicaid, the nation’s key health safety-net program. Most notably, in the mid-1990s when Newt Gingrich ascended to the House Speakership, his “Contract with America” proposed restructuring the program along with massive cuts in funding. In response, Families USA created the National Medicaid Coalition to fight those cuts. The ensuing political fight resulted in the temporary shutdown of government, but, ultimately the cutbacks were defeated. Families USA continues to chair the coalition, now composed of over 400 organizations dedicated to expanding and protecting the program.  

Nurturing a consumer health movement—Throughout its existence, Families USA has nurtured a consumer health movement. Families USA hosts annual Health Action conferences, the largest yearly gatherings of consumer health activists. Those conferences routinely attract top-rank speakers, including President Barack Obama (once as President, twice as Senator), President Bill Clinton, Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, First Lady Hillary Clinton (twice), Health and Human Services Secretaries Sylvia Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, numerous congressional leaders, and key health policy thought leaders. Families USA has also helped to create and support consumer health coalitions in states across the country and today, Families USA provides ongoing technical assistance and other support to local coalitions as they pursue significant state policy initiatives.

Honors—Families USA’s accomplishments over the years have earned Ron several distinctive honors:

  • During the 25th anniversary of Search for Common Ground, a nationally renowned conflict management organization, Ron received the Common Ground co-award for bringing ideologically diverse health organizations that reached consensus about how to expand health coverage for the uninsured. Past recipients of that award include President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Muhammad Ali. 
  • The Hill, a weekly newspaper covering Congress, named Ron one of the nine top nonprofit lobbyists.
  • Modern Healthcare named Ron one of the 100 Most Powerful People in Health Care.
  • And National Journal named him one of the top 25 players in Congress, the Administration, and the lobbying community on Medicare prescription drug benefits.