Shyaam Subramanian

Advocacy Works: Grassroots Advocacy Helps Protect Access to Healthcare

At Alliance for Justice, when we provide training and technical assistance to nonprofit organizations on the legal rules of advocacy, we often get asked: How effective is advocacy in influencing public policy? Advocacy works, and the recent efforts to protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA) serve as a powerful reminder.

When the American Health Care Act (ACHA) was first publicly released on March 6, 2017, health advocacy groups across the country were alarmed at the devastating impacts the bill could have especially on people enrolled in Medicaid, lower-income seniors, and rural communities.

Rather than accept the bill’s passage as inevitable, nonprofit organizations mobilized to provide lawmakers with informed, fact-based research on the bill’s potential impact, amplify stories of people helped by the ACA, and ask members and allies to call their representatives in Congress to oppose the bill. For example, the National Health Law Program published a series of issue briefs on the Medicaid program’s protections. AARP urged its 38 million members to contact Congress, highlighted the impact of the “age tax,” and sent staffers in squirrel suits to Capitol Hill to argue that the bill was “nuts.”  And the Kaiser Family Foundation, a trusted source of expertise on national health policy, carefully and objectively detailed how the bill would likely affect various populations, including people with disabilities enrolled in Medicaid.

After tallying publicly available information on constituent calls, the Washington Post reported 59,337 calls made to Members of Congress to urge them to oppose the ACHA with just 1,130 messages in support. As Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia 11th Congressional District, noted, “You organized across the country…You called your Representatives and asked them to vote no. Members of Congress reported receiving thousands of calls from constituents almost uniformly against repeal.” Of course, numerous factors influenced the outcome—from the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis to a lack of policy consensus—but grassroots advocacy and sustained constituent pressure undoubtedly had a significant impact.

We know that advocacy works, and Alliance for Justice’s Bolder Advocacy program can help your nonprofit organization understand how to build capacity to engage in advocacy, recognize when advocacy becomes lobbying, and learn how to maximize how much lobbying you can do. The recent efforts to protect the ACA show how effective advocacy can be, and why it is important for groups to encourage participation of everyday people who are impacted by proposed legislation. To learn more about lobbying rules for 501(c)(3) public charities, please see our publication Being a Player.