• Article
  • April 19, 2017

How Children's Hospitals' Advocates Make Their Voices Heard During the Health Care Debate

Congress makes decisions that affect the lives of all Americans, but it can be difficult for legislators to know what's going on in the lives of their constituents and how their decisions may help or harm their livelihoods, health or happiness. Constituent voices are powerful, and empowering people with a simple way to communicate with their elected officials, along with an idea of how to phrase their message, is a great way to further amplify those voices.

The power of those voices was clear during the current health care debate and the action on the American Health Care Act (AHCA) over recent months. During the AHCA's initial consideration earlier this year, children's hospitals across the country initiated grassroots advocacy campaigns to make sure Congress knew why the AHCA would be harmful for children's health care.

For example, two hospitals, Nationwide Children's Hospital and Seattle Children's Hospital, partnered with Speak Now for Kids, the Children's Hospital Association's (CHA) advocacy network, to pool resources and coordinate messaging for these efforts.

How it worked

Soon after the AHCA was introduced, Nationwide Children's Hospital began spreading the word about protecting Medicaid for kids through a variety of channels, including op-eds from CEO Steve Allen, M.D. To build on these efforts, the hospital encouraged its donors across the country to take action. The hospital encouraged them to send messages to Congress to keep Medicaid strong for kids using language CHA created. This campaign generated 1,912 messages to federal lawmakers representing 49 states and three U.S. territories.

CHA created a unique hyperlink to provide the hospital with regular updates on the number of messages submitted to Congress, which House and Senate members received messages, and the names and email addresses of people who took action.

Leading up to an anticipated AHCA House floor vote, Seattle Children's Hospital wanted to use the advocacy potential of an op-ed written by hospital CEO Jeff Sperring, M.D. On the same day The Seattle Times published Sperring's op-ed, the hospital connected with CHA about encouraging supporters to contact members of Congress and ask them to safeguard Medicaid for kids.

Seattle Children's and CHA designed a trackable hyperlink, which the hospital disseminated through Facebook, Twitter and an email from Sperring to employees. The outreach generated about 3,000 messages to U.S. House representatives and U.S. senators in five states.

Making contact

On March 24, House leadership canceled a scheduled vote on the AHCA—it didn't have the votes to pass that day. Children's hospitals will never know the degree to which messages from grassroots campaigns actually swayed the opinions of elected officials leading up to the vote. But knowing that even one constituent voice is powerful to a lawmaker, these nearly 5,000 meaningful contacts—and the thousands of additional messages children's hospitals and Speak Now for Kids sent to members of Congress—played an important role.

The future of the AHCA is uncertain, but the health care debate is far from over. Children's hospital grassroots activities will remain a powerful tool to protect children's health care, and partnerships between hospitals and Speak Now for Kids can help make sure the network is used to its fullest potential.

Learn more about Speak Now for Kids and how your hospital can get involved.

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.