Families USA Health Action Conference 2016: Learning to Play Health Advocacy Offense and Defense at the Same Time

By Jill Zorn

1280px-Linebacker.svg.pngThe Affordable Care Act (ACA) has enabled access to health care to millions of Americans who previously had no health insurance coverage.

Yet, almost six years since the bill passed in March 2010, efforts are STILL underway to kill the ACA, either through several Supreme Court cases or through Congress.  In fact, the House of Representatives has voted multiple times, including this month’s unsuccessful attempt to override a presidential veto of repeal legislation.

While responding to these constant attacks has been necessary, at the same time, many efforts are also underway to improve the ACA.  Regulations to implement the law in a way that sticks as much as possible to the spirit of the legislation’s intent are regularly released by the Obama administration.  And state-based advocates are also working to enhance the law where they can.

This has led to a situation where health advocates find themselves both playing defense to hold onto the gains the ACA has achieved while at the same time playing offense to improve it.

At the recent Families USA Health Action Conference 2016: Next Steps in Health Reform (#HA2016), the need to play both offense and defense was very much on display.  As the agenda shows, one whole track of the conference was devoted to highlighting advocacy approaches to expand Medicaid in the states that have still not done so.

Another track was devoted to learning about effective enrollment strategies.  Large numbers of enrollment navigators and assisters from across the country were in attendance, both to sharpen their outreach skills and to learn more about the many other aspects of health reform.  Families USA sees this army of enrollment experts as an important base for building the next generation of health advocates.

Finally, the conference highlighted the extensive work underway to improve the ACA, both through state and federal regulation.  Workshops focused on how to use the ACA to enhance health equity, how to rein in problematic insurance practices like high deductibles or surprise medical bills, how to ensure consumer participation in State Innovation Model (SIM) projects, and what to do about high drug prices.

In a future blog, I will write about what I learned about the new regulations for implementing 1332 State Innovation waivers, a possible opportunity states to make changes to the ACA in 2017.  The Foundation recently published two policy briefs on the use of waivers to improve access and affordability here and here.

To learn more about the wide range of topics covered during Health Action 2016, go to the conference agenda.  Many of the presentations at can be found by clicking on a specific workshop session.  The home page for the conference also includes summary blogs and Storify streams.

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