Written by Michael Cunniff, Spring 2017 student in the Health Law and Policy Clinic.
Seeing advocacy in action was the thing that stuck with me the most at the Tackling Lung Cancer in Kentucky Workshop. I was there to present with CHLPI students and staff about current proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and how those proposals could impact the lives of patients living with lung cancer. Our presentation was designed merely to set the backdrop for the more targeted discussions to follow – developing concrete steps to fight lung cancer in Kentucky.
One of the steps that participants quickly coalesced around was one for which the clock was ticking. The latest session of the Kentucky legislature was ending the following week and there was a bill related to tobacco cessation on the docket that advocates in the room hoped to see approved. The bill—SB 89: An Act relating to health benefit coverage for tobacco cessation treatment—would require insurers to provide barrier-free access to tobacco cessation services to its consumers. The bill had passed the Senate nearly unanimously, and was set to pass the House too—if it ever hit the floor. Advocates at the summit were worried that the bill would stall it in the Health and Family Services Committee and the session would expire without a vote.
They were determined not to let this happen. Advocates quickly organized a plan for what to do—namely, have the Kentucky residents in the room call their legislators to discuss the importance of the bill. The issue wasn’t convincing legislators to vote for the bill (it had passed the Senate 35-2). The issue was convincing legislators to make it a priority to pass that bill over other legislation during a period in which time was a scarce resource. The atmosphere in the room was energizing as people realized that their efforts could help score a win on this issue.
I don’t know how many people in the room ended up calling their legislator. I don’t know how many convinced other people to call their legislators. But I do know that the bill passed out of committee and was approved 90-1 in the House.
Their efforts worked, and now it’ll be just a little bit easier to quit smoking in Kentucky.