Implementing the Health Law: Personal Stories

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Americans can be moved from initial skepticism and leaning toward repeal of the health law to a position of favorable feelings and resisting repeal—but a specific approach is required to facilitate this shift in attitude.

Use credible personal stories (simple ones are more believable) and wrap around an element(s) of reform most highly valued by the group you are speaking to.

A compelling personal story helps make the law real; breaks down resistance; taps into anger about how things were before passage while instilling hope for how reform can make it better; and helps people retain knowledge of key provisions. Stories also depoliticize and create connection and empathy that will make the benefits real and concrete.

You can use the following stories in your communities (they are real stories supplied by FamiliesUSA and we have permission to use them), or better yet, find local/regional stories and apply the same format. And having a person tell their own story is the best approach.

For more examples of real personal stories, visit our stories links.

Personal Story: Bekky (pre-existing condition)

Third person voice:

"Last year Bekky was diagnosed with breast cancer. Following three months of treatment, she returned to work to learn her employer, struggling in this economy, had to drop her coverage. Since then, she's been turned down by 13 insurance companies—her cancer had become a pre-existing condition. Now she's $29,000 in medical debt and scared.

"The new health law provides a different future for Bekky. Insurers can no longer discriminate against her because she was diagnosed with cancer—denials due to pre-existing conditions are against the law. As a small business owner, Bekky's employer now receives a tax credit helping him afford coverage for his employees. And with the law saying no to lifetime limits, Bekky can turn her full attention to staying healthy and not worrying about bankruptcy."

Elements of reform addressed in this personal story include:

  • insurers can no longer discriminate due to a pre-existing condition,
  • you can't lose your coverage when you get sick and need it the most,
  • no more lifetime limits,
  • small business owners receive tax credits to help them afford coverage for their employees.

This story would be even more effective if Bekky were sharing it:

First person voice:

"My name is Bekky. Last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Following three months of treatment, I returned to work to learn that my employer, struggling in this economy, had to drop my coverage. Since then, I've been turned down by 13 insurance companies—cancer is not only a disease but also a pre-existing condition. Today I'm $29,000 in medical debt. If cancer wasn't scary enough, I'm also worrying about paying off this debt while watching my bills mount. I can't tell you what a relief this new health law is—it's a great start at helping people and families. Insurers will no longer be able to discriminate against us for having cancer—denials due to pre-existing conditions are against the law. Small business owners are receiving tax credits to help them afford coverage for their employees. And with the law saying no more lifetime limits, I can finally turn my full attention to staying healthy and not worrying about going bankrupt."

Personal Story: Nathan (annual and lifetime limits)

Third person voice:

"Nathan's son, Thomas, was born with hemophilia. At the time, Nathan and his family had great insurance through the high tech telecommunications company that he helped start. He felt very fortunate, but his sense of well-being was short lived. The insurance company raised the price for the entire group of 100-150 employees to compensate for the costs associated with Thomas's treatments. After searching in vain for other insurers to cover the company, Thomas exceeded the $1 million cap on coverage. Nathan wasn't sure what to do. One social worker suggested that he and his wife get a divorce so that Thomas could qualify for Medicaid.

"The new health care law bans lifetime and annual limits. Because of the law people like Nathan can rest assured that if they pay for insurance coverage, it will be there for them when they need it most – so they can focus on their family's health and not their medical bills."

Elements of reform addressed in this personal story include:

  • Law bans lifetime and annual limits
  • Law bans pre-existing conditions

This story would be even more effective if Nathan were sharing it:

First person voice:

"My name is Nathan. My wife and I were thrilled when our son Thomas was born. At the time our family had great insurance coverage through the high tech telecommunications company that I helped start. We had heard other people's horror stories about their insurance, but we felt very fortunate. But Thomas was born with hemophilia. Within no time, the insurance company raised the cost for our entire group of 100+ employees. After a year long unsuccessful search to find another insurer to cover the company, my wife and I learned that Thomas had exceeded the $1 million cap on coverage. I didn't have a clue as to what to do. One social worker suggested divorce; that way Thomas could qualify for Medicaid. The new health law has been the best answer. Not only are lifetime and annual limits banned saving families like mine from economic disaster, but Thomas will not have to worry about ever get coverage—pre-existing conditions will also be banned."

Personal Story: David (recissions)

Third person voice:

"David lives and works in Arkansas. He was covered under his employee plan for a year before the insurance company went back in his record and cancelled his plan retroactively. The company claimed that David didn't disclose all of his medical history on his original form. Unfortunately for David, he had no idea hemorrhoids fell under the category 'digestive disorders.' They also cited no mention of his high triglycerides and high cholesterol, which David didn't even know he had. He appealed the decision. Four months later, he got a letter from the insurance company saying "it is irrelevant whether or not you intentionally or inadvertently failed to reveal all of your previous medical history." His appeal was denied.

"Under the new law, it is illegal for health insurance companies to take coverage away from people like David who play by the rules, pay all of their premiums, and just want their insurance to be there for them when they need it. The new law includes tough and fair regulations to protect us from the worst insurance company abuses of the past."

Elements of reform addressed in this personal story include:

  • Law makes it illegal for health insurance companies to take away your coverage
  • Law has tough and fair regulations to protect the public from insurance abuses

This story would be even more effective if David were sharing it:

First person voice:

"My name is David. I live and work in Arkansas. I felt very fortunate to work for a business that provided health insurance. But about a year after I started my job, I received notification from my insurer claiming they had retroactively cancelled my plan because I had not disclosed all of my medical history on my original form. I was shocked when they cited I hadn't listed hemorrhoids as a 'digestive disorder' or mentioned high triglycerides and cholesterol—which I had no idea I even had. I couldn't believe that the insurance industry could get away with this and decided to appeal. Months later I received another letter stating "it is irrelevant whether or not you intentionally or inadvertently failed to reveal all of your previous medical history." My appeal was denied. I was thrilled to hear about the new health law; finally we are protected so we can't lose our coverage and regulations so insurers can't get away with such abuses."

Personal Story: Brian (small business)

Third person voice:

"Brian is a small business owner. He's had his auto company in Maryland for many years and is proud to have always provided healthcare coverage for his employees because, as he puts it, "If you buy a car and take care of it, it will last you many years. If you don't, it won't." But every year Brian worries about the 15-20% hike in premiums.

"The new health law provides Brian and other small business owners with a tax credit to help with the costs of covering their employees . . . a wise investment that also makes the healthcare system fairer."

Elements of reform addressed in this personal story include:

  • tax credits to small business owners to help them provide coverage for their employees;
  • focuses on prevention/ wise investment
  • makes our healthcare system fairer

This story would be even more effective if Brian were sharing it:

First person voice:

"My name is Brian. I've owned a small business, an auto company, in Maryland for many years. The folks who have worked for the company have been like family to me. I've always provided healthcare coverage because I believe that if you buy a car and take care of it, it will last you many years. If you don't, it won't. But I got to admit, every year I worry about the 15-20% hike in premiums and every year I'm frustrated by other employers who don't offer healthcare benefits. While I don't like what insurance does to my bottom line either, I believe that all employers should participate; otherwise those who are doing the right thing by their employees are paying for those who aren't. Now with the new health law giving a tax credit to small businesses, I can save and reinvest in my company. I think the law focuses on the right things—fairness and good investments."

Personal Story: Karen (prevention)

Third person voice:

"Karen lives in Minnesota. Both of Karen's parents had type 2 diabetes, so she wasn't surprised a few years ago when her doctor discovered that she was "pre-diabetic." Instead of allowing the disease to take control, her doctor was proactive and referred Karen to a program at her community's hospital where she learned the essentials of keeping her glucose levels under control with diet and exercise. She attributes this preventive care with keeping her from getting diabetes.

"Under the health care law, all new health insurance plans will be required to cover prevention with no co-payments, so that people like Karen have a better chance of stopping diabetes or other illnesses before they start. Copays for routine checkups will be eliminated and Medicare will cover an annual exam and preventative services, making it easier for us to be responsible and stay healthy."

Elements of reform addressed in this personal story include:

  • all new insurance plans will cover preventative services
  • Medicare will fully cover annual check-ups and most preventative services and treatments for seniors

This story would be even more effective if Karen were sharing it:

First person voice:

"My name is Karen. Growing up in Minnesota I watched both of my parents suffer with type 2 diabetes, so it was no surprise when my doctor discovered I was 'pre-diabetic.' I feel very lucky that my doctor was on top of it and helped me take control of my health. He referred me to a preventive program at our community's hospital. I learned the essentials of keeping my glucose levels under control with diet and exercise. I credit my doctor's proactive approach and the hospital's preventive services with helping me be responsible, stay healthy, and not become a diabetic. I consider it a huge plus that the new health law requires all new health insurance plans to cover prevention. And Medicare will cover annual check-ups and preventative services."

For more examples of real personal stories, visit our stories links.

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