Exclusive Commentary: A Guide to Changing Health Policy in a Post-ACA World

By R. Sterling Haring, MPH

After 13 unsuccessful years, 2014 saw the passage of a law mandating booster seat usage in Florida. While many factors played a role in this public health victory, a few key elements to this year’s approach that helped give the bill the necessary momentum to become law, including: a broad and organized network of vocal supporters, effective communication tools, and leverage of political opportunities.  These components can be helpful to any public health advocate.

A supportive coalition serves two goals: underscoring the legitimacy and urgency of the cause, and as a mechanism for organized email/phone campaigns to encourage potential sponsors of the legislation to lend their support.

As any policy advocate knows, a policymaker’s attention is a valuable thing. Effective communication is crucial to capitalizing on opportunities to sway votes.  Printed media is useful, but can be detrimental if incorrectly used. Remember two points to effective communication tools: (1) keep it short, and (2) statistics make you believable, but stories make your memorable. Similarly, elections can be an advocate’s best friend. Support from rival candidates can sometimes be enough incentive to get the votes you need from incumbents.

The distrust and gridlock that have gripped legislative bodies since the passage of the Affordable Care Act could not have taken a greater toll on the policy ambitions of public health advocates. Now, more than ever, health advocacy efforts must be comprehensive and broad-based if they are to succeed.

—R. Sterling Haring, MPH, is a medical student and a researcher with the Johns Hopkins Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research. He participated in the Florida booster seat effort as a policy analyst and made key changes to the approach which contributed to the bill's passage. He also recently accepted a health policy fellowship at Harvard's Center for Surgery and Public Health.

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