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AMSA Lobby Day Expanding Health Care Coverage for All

Brandon Sandine
Health Care For All Coordinator
American Medical Student Association 

On Wednesday May 21st and Thursday May 22nd members of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), American Medical Student Association (AMSA), Public Citizen and National Nurses United (NNU) gathered together in solidarity to support expanding health care coverage to all people in America. For myself, the events began with AMSA’s Lobby Day Training hosted at George Washington University on May 21st. This was an opportunity for premedical and medical students to learn the basics of political advocacy from health care and community advocacy leaders such as Robert Zarr M.D. (PNHP), Rachel Degolia (Universal Health Care Action Network), and Nick Unger (AFL-CIO).

I found particularly inspiring the presentation “Organizing and Communicating; Medical Student Advocates” given by Nick Unger. The focus of this discussion style lecture was effective communication strategies. These included active listening/responding, narrative development, and focusing on context rather than content.

According to Mr. Unger, effective communicators avoid listing facts and instead relate to their audience’s concerns. By doing this you can appeal to the context that your opposition adheres to and gain influence. As someone who has spent a lot of time developing my argument for single-payer, I found Mr. Unger’s communication approach incredibly important; it directly influenced the way I planned to interact with policy makers on Capitol Hill the following day.

Armed with the knowledge gained in the previous evening's speakers, early Thursday morning AMSA members, including myself, met our constituent groups at PNHP’s official training workshop. We listened to guest speakers such as Representative John Conyers (D-MI) and broke out into our respective groups to develop our legislative meeting strategies.

My group was primarily composed of NNU members from the Chicago area. I feel I was incredibly privileged to work with this passionate group of nurses who had encountered first-hand the consequences of a healthcare system that treats health care as a marketplace commodity. We decided that they would tell patient stories, of which they had intimate knowledge, that highlighted significant problems in our healthcare system, and I would present an image of how much better a single-payer healthcare system would be.

We took to the hill for our first meeting with a Legislative Assistant (LA) for Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL). As we entered the meeting space a rush of nerves took hold of us. Thankfully, the LA was very welcoming and put all of us at ease. We began with general introductions, followed by sharing patient stories that were complicated by our current healthcare system’s structure. Kim, a nurse, shared the story of a patient who was denied a minimally invasive procedure because it was too costly, and given instead a less costly but highly invasive procedure with a high risk of infection.

If we had a single-payer healthcare system that included all residents of America, Kim’s patient would have received the less risky procedure.

After Kim's story I turned to the LA and asked if she was familiar with John Conyers' bill H.R. 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare For All. While she had heard of the bill, her concerns were that Rep. Quigley was more interested in supporting the ACA. Secondly, she claimed that this just wasn’t the right political atmosphere to pass such a bill as H.R. 676. As a now seasoned single-payer advocate, I was prepared for this kind of opposition. I suggested that the ACA is still going to cause harmful situations like those in our patient stories.

Additionally, I suggested, supporting the ACA and H.R. 676 are not mutually exclusive. The Congressman can do both!

As far as the political environment goes, I said that she was right! The current political atmosphere is and will remain closed to the single-payer argument--unless Legislative Assistants such as herself listen to their constituents' arguments and advise congresspeople to change their minds.

We have one very important ask, I told her. Let Representative Quigley know that his constituents support single payer, and that if he wants our votes, so should he!

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