This Thursday, September 23, 2010 will mark the six-month anniversary of the signing of the federal health care reform bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. On this date, several key provisions of the health reform law will go into effect, including the coverage of pre-existing conditions for children, extending coverage for young adults, requiring free preventive care, the elimination of the cap on lifetime benefits, and more.
Organizations and legislators across the country are using this important milestone as an opportunity to educate the public about the many current and future benefits of the health reform law and to prepare for the tasks ahead that states face to implement future provisions. Progressive States Network and the Working Group of State Legislators for Health Reform have been working with organizational allies around the country to promote these events. This Dispatch highlights links to events, messaging, and other resources to support local events highlighting the gains to families from implementation of the federal health law.
Finding or Holding a Health Care Event in Your Community
This week, twenty-five states and growing are planning events around the six-month anniversary of the health laws passage. Click below or at http://www.progressivestates.org/statefedhealth/events  for a national, state-by-state calendar of events that advocacy organizations and state legislators have planned leading up to and on September 23rd.
We invite all to use this calendar to get involved in events happening in your communities and to develop ideas for planning new events. If you know of additional events, please send us information to add to the list by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org  with the following information: title of event, date, time, location, description, sponsoring organization(s), contact info (for more info or to RSVP), and, if available, a web address with event information.
It is critical that we get the word out in local media to raise awareness about the reforms set to take effect that day. To support legislators and advocates' efforts, Progressive States Network has compiled a number of resources on our website, including:
- Messaging  - pointers on effective ways to talk about the health care law and the threat of repeal of key provisions by conservative opponents.
- State Implementation Resources  - a collection of resources on the various aspects of the implementation of federal reform in the states.
- Policy Fact Sheets and Public Education Tools  - Families USA, in partnership with several other organizations, has compiled a series of materials to use to maximize your impact on September 23, whether you choose to host an event in your community, mobilize your networks, write letters to the editor or op-eds, reach out to the media, or educate your family and friends. The collection includes fact sheets, brochures, flyers, and more.
- Health Law Implementation Public Education: Template Communications Plan  - This sample communications plan from Community Catalyst outlines public education activities advocates can undertake for Sept. 23, and beyond. It includes supplemental materials designed to be tailored to reach your community.
- Posters on the Benefits of the New Health Law  - The National Physicians Alliance has created these colorful 8.5" x 11" posters to post and share. Each focuses on a different benefit of the new health law illustrated by a personal story.
- Plan for Public Education re: Sept. 23rd  - TakeAction Minnesota highlights one model approach to promoting public education.
- Advocating during Election Season: Some Dos and Don’ts  - This memo from the Alliance for Justice offers guidance to 501(c)3 organizations on how to maximize their advocacy efforts with elected officials during election season.
Why the Law Matters for American Families
One key to communication on the health law is tie it to stories of how individuals and their families will be helped. Such stories give a clearer explanation of why the law matters in a way that takes it out of the negative political frame opponents have cast. The following are a few illustrative examples from a resource page  created by the Herndon Alliance, an alliance of national health care advocates that includes the Progressive States Network, that tell the story of how the law will make a difference. These stories are all real and give a sense of local stories that should be told for local events in each state:
» Bekky: Following three months of treatment for breast cancer, Bekky returned to work to learn her employer, struggling in this economy, had to drop her coverage. Since then, she's been turned down by 13 insurance companies—her cancer had become a pre-existing condition. Now she's $29,000 in medical debt and worried about paying the bills. Under the new law, insurers will no longer be able to discriminate against her because she has a pre-existing condition. Bekky's employer will now receive a tax credit to helping afford coverage for his employees. And the federal law will eliminate lifetime limits on care, so Bekky won't have to worry about exhausting benefits and ending up in bankruptcy.
» Nathan: Nathan's son, Thomas, was born with hemophilia. While Nathan and his family had good insurance through the company he helped start, the insurance company raised the price for the entire group of 100-150 employees to compensate for the costs associated with Thomas' treatments. Thomas soon exceeded the $1 million cap on coverage. The new health care law bans lifetime and annual limits on care, so people like Nathan won't have to worry about his son losing coverage.
» Karen: Karen lives in Minnesota and both her parents had Type 2 diabetes. When she was diagnosed as "pre-diabetic," Karen was referred to a program at her community's hospital where she learned the essentials of keeping her glucose levels under control with diet and exercise which helped keep her from getting diabetes. Under the health care law, all new health insurance plans will be required to cover prevention with no co-payments, so that people like Karen have a better chance of stopping diabetes or other illnesses before they start. Co-pays for routine checkups will also be eliminated.
More examples of these types of personal stories are also available from groups like GettingCovered.org  -- focused on the extension of coverage to young adults -- and America's Healthcare . Families USA also has a Tell Us Your Story  program collecting stories of how reform will help families and small businesses.
For more on the substance of the health law and what provisions come into effect his month, see:
- Consumers Union Guide - Health Reform: The First Six Months  - This brief, handy guide by the makers of Consumers Reports was created to give a quick summary of major provisions of the law.
- Getting Covered: A Young Person's Guide to Health Insurance  - U.S. PIRG in partnership with Families USA has highlighted how the law impacts young people.
- Six Months In: Who is the Affordable Care Act helping in your community?  - Community Catalyst has compiled this fact sheet outlining who is helped by the provisions of health reform that go into effect on September 23, 2010 with brief descriptions of those provisions.
- A Helping Hand For Small Businesses: Health Insurance Tax Credits  (July 2010) This Families USA and Small Business Majority study explains the small business tax credit authorized under the PPACA and provides state by state data on the number of small businesses eligible for a tax credit for the health insurance that they provide for their employees.
Messaging: Repeal Threatens Provisions Popular with the Public
Overall public support for “health care reform” is divided, but the actual individual elements of the enacted federal health care law are extremely popular.
Source: Kaiser Health Tracking Poll – April 2010 
Conservative opponents of the health care law want a vague debate on health care reform, with all the non-existent “death panels” or other imagined parts they imply are involved. Progressive States Network has a one-page flyer for Messaging on Federal Health Care Law (doc ) (pdf )
Keep the debate focused on the threat of repealing popular provisions
- Continued denial of coverage for preexisting conditions
- No new small business tax credits
- Losing your health insurance if you get a catastrophic illness
- No individual tax breaks to help purchase insurance
- The Medicare prescription drug doughnut hole continues
- No expanded help to the uninsured
- Families will not be able to add children up to age 26 to their health care policies
Progressive States Network held a webinar earlier this month with Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners, Sherry Prowda of Herndon Alliance and Iowa State Sen. Jack Hatch, to highlight a range of other messaging approaches that work based on polls and focus groups. You can see and hear an archived version of the presentation here: http://bit.ly/PSNhcwebinar . (Please note that you will need to provide your name and email address in order to view the archived webinar.)
The Herndon Alliance also has a summary of their focus group research  by Lake Research Partners, an overview of their Web polling research  by Greenberg Quinlan and Rosner Research, and some high-level take-aways  combining these findings.
A few key points from the research:
» Let voters know the federal law passed: Many voters—especially Latino voters and non-college women—are not even sure Congress has passed a health care reform law.
» Use personal stories coupled with clear, simple descriptions of how the law works. As noted above, one of the most powerful findings of this research is that a compelling personal story helps tremendously to make the health care reform law real, break down resistance, tap into anger about how things were under the old system, provide hope for how health care reform can make it better, and help voters retain knowledge of key provisions.
» Keep claims small and credible; don't over-promise or "spin" what the law will deliver: Large-scale claims about the broad impact of health care reform are not reassuring to voters
» Focus on how the law will end pre-existing condition exclusions for adults and children, provide small business tax credits to help them provide coverage for their employees, and force insurers to provide no-cost coverage of preventive care. These are the core elements of the law that voters value, and they help turn skeptics into defenders of the law.
» Advocates should not be afraid to concede that the law is not perfect, or "not the law any of us would have written." The language of "improve" works better than "fix," "repair," or "innovate" because it is positive and forward-looking.
» Address scarcity and cost concerns. Swing voters believe that health care reform covering tens of millions of uninsured people and people with preexisting conditions is bound to cost more and lead to a scarcity of providers.
» Avoid overheated political rhetoric. Messages that employ partisan, celebratory, or self-congratulatory elements fall flat with these voters and are counterproductive.
» Talk about members of Congress being part of the same system. One key to reducing skepticism about the law is to tell voters that Congress will be part of the same system.
Other messaging resources to use include:
- Talking with Your Target Audience: Which Provisions Resonate with Which Groups?  - This document from Community Catalyst breaks down target audiences who may support health reform and outlines the early provisions in the Affordable Care Act that will appeal to them. Link these provisions to real life stories to make the most effective case for supporting the new health care law.
- Still Making Things Worse: An Updated Critique of Conservative Health Policy Proposals  - Repealing the federal Affordable Care Act would, as this memo by the Center for American Progress details, would allow myriad health care problems to continue to fester and grow, saddling future generations of Americans with unsustainable federal budget deficits and leaving the American people paying more each year for health insurance.
- Reducing Health Insurance Tax Credits Would Jeopardize Market Reforms and Cost Controls  - With opponents of the federal health reform law calling for scaling back tax credits for working families to afford health insurance, this report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities emphasizes that such action would undercut the effectiveness of the proposed health insurance exchanges and hurt insurance market reforms designed to control costs in the health care system.