We are honored to announce that the keynote address at Health Action NM's 20th Anniversary Celebration Dinner will be presented by a national leader in consumer health advocacy, Mr. Ron Pollack, Founder and Executive Director of Families USA. Mr. Pollack has been recognized for many achievements, which include being appointed by President Clinton as the sole consumer representative on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry, successfully arguing two cases on the same day in the U.S. Supreme Court to secure food aid for low-income Americans, and the successful federal litigation that resulted in the creation of the WIC program for malnourished mothers and infants. He was also instrumental in the creation of Health Action NM.
How it all started
Health Action NM’s roots lie in the reaction to proposals that would dismantle the social safety net in the United States. In the mid-90’s, there was a serious effort to severely cut and privatize Medicare and Medicaid, monumental programs that effectively provide financial security and access to health care for millions of Americans. A grassroots movement formed throughout the nation to protect these programs during this time of great uncertainty. Central to this effort was Ron Pollack, who was called “a real whipper-snapper” by Mandy Pino, one of Health Action NM’s founders.
Building a movement
Throughout the nation, Mr. Pollack organized advocates to oppose efforts to weaken or eliminate public health coverage programs. Among the advocates were three New Mexicans: Mandy Pino, Pat Bartels, and Ellen Leitzer. Together, they formed the Committee to Preserve Medicare and Medicaid. “Families USA identified or created small groups throughout the nation to protect these programs” says Pino, “and that’s how Health Action NM started.” For the first several years, the committee worked on a completely volunteer basis to advocate at the local and national level to protect essential programs and create new protections for patients and consumers. That committee eventually became Health Action NM and spurred the creation of the New Mexico Health Care for All Coalition.
From organizing to action
By the late 1990’s, Health Action NM was officially formed and brought together community activists and policy experts to advocate for better health care policies. Community forums were held throughout the state to bring consumer testimony directly to state officials. In 1998, Ellen Pinnes was hired as Health Action NM’s first official paid staffer and worked with Jim Jackson and other co-chairs to pass the Patient Protection Act, a historic patient bill of rights that was passed by the state legislature. These advocates also worked to create a community foundation with funds from the conversion of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield New Mexico in to a for-profit entity. In 2002, that foundation became the Con Alma Foundation, which now distributes in excess of $1 million annually to community-based health care organizations. The organization then worked to develop a blueprint to improve New Mexico’s health care system for the next several years.
National health reform
During the debate around health reform, Health Action NM engaged communities around to state to educate people about the most promising ideas in health policy. Upon the passage of the Affordable Care Act, our staff worked tirelessly to advocate for policies that the state could adopt to better serve people in New Mexico during the law’s implementation. Working alongside incredible partner organizations, Health Action NM advocated for and secured the expansion of Medicaid, the creation of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange, and a process to review and reject unjustified health insurance premium hikes. By 2013, Health Action NM assembled a statewide field team in conjunction with local partnerships to organize outreach and enrollment efforts.
20 more years of success
It is incredible to look back at all of the stories, people, and places that went in to creating this organization. Our team couldn’t be more thrilled to honor those who have made such a substantial impact on our state’s health care system for the good of the people. We hope you will join us in celebrating 20 years of advocating for consumers, increasing access to health care, and engaging with communities in New Mexico in their own health. We’re looking forward to 20 more. Cheers!