Centering Stories for Health Care Reform in Minnesota
For over a decade, TakeAction Minnesota members have organized for a true health care system that:
- Improves health
- Centers people
- Leaves nobody out
Advocates in Minnesota believe the best pathway to universal health care coverage is through a public option, which they set out to create in 2018. They were clear on their advocacy approach from the beginning: those for whom the current health care system isn’t working and who would stand to gain from expanded access to quality, affordable coverage – rural residents, working families, people of color and small businesses – would carry the message of change to decision-makers. What unfolded from this approach was a campaign driven by and grounded in people’s stories and lived experience. This proved enormously powerful not only in TakeAction’s advocacy for a public option but also in their efforts to successfully elevate health care as a critical issue during 2018 statewide elections and defend against impending cuts to coverage in the 2019 legislative session.
The Land Stewardship Project to mobilize rural farmers, many of whom face limited coverage options and high health coverage costs;
TakeAction and their partners held hands-on storyteller trainings where participants had the opportunity to learn and practice how to share their health care stories with journalists, key decision-makers, on social media and in their own communities.
These storytellers were not just pivotal in building support for a public option; they helped shape and intensify public awareness of key health care issues in the midst of important statewide elections in 2018, including a competitive gubernatorial race. These efforts helped elevate health care as a top issue for voters in Minnesota, who, elected a pro-health care governor and legislative majority in the House of Representatives.
To ready for the 2019 legislative session, TakeAction and their partners identified a pool of 200 Minnesotans as potential storytellers for the media and other key settings. For example, shortly after the election, advocates organized a cohort of storytellers to meet and share their health care stories through roundtable discussions with newly elected Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan. These efforts paid off and paved the way for Governor Walz to propose a bold, comprehensive plan to address Minnesota’s most pressing health care needs, including an expansion of health care through a public option in addition to other significant initiatives related to prescription drug prices, mental health care and dental services.
Though advocates were energized by the possibilities offered in Governor Walz’s health care reform proposal, they faced a major policy threat in the legislature: The health care provider tax, which generates over $700 million for public health care programs, was set to expire at the end of 2019 and there wasn’t enough support in the Senate to preserve it. TakeAction and their partners faced an advocacy and messaging challenge: how could they mobilize members to urgently defend against the provider tax sunset (a complex policy that is difficult to message) while also promoting their long-term vision for high quality, affordable and equitable health care for all Minnesotans? The answer: Stories and grassroots leadership. TakeAction and their partners mobilized their storytellers at in-district meetings with legislators, on social media and in the halls of the state capitol. Ultimately, the campaign to preserve the provider tax was successful, not only because health care coverage was protected, but because it also energized and positioned grassroots leaders, storytellers and activists to share their bold vision for health care in Minnesota and re-ignite momentum behind a public option.
There’s no question that the health care landscape, both in Minnesota and nationally, will continue to shift and present challenges and opportunities for advocates to spearhead change. What remains constant is the imperative that we root our work in personal stories and lived experiences. As challenging as the past two years have been defensively, advocates and grassroots leaders continue to be inspired by people-led movements that disrupt the status quo with personal stories. The pathway forward is through grassroots, people-power.
Kenza Hadj-Moussa, Communications Director for TakeAction Minnesota, also contributed to this blog.