Training Webinar: Making Public Policy Issues Relatable
Making Public Policy Issues
Using health care reform as a case study
to demonstrate best practices and
language for advocacy, media, and
Business Forward helps you make the business
case for public policy reforms that work.
Business Forward has worked with more than 100,000
business leaders across the United States, and health care
costs consistently rank as their top concern. We have
organized hundreds of briefings on health care. Those
briefings included two Secretaries of Health and Human
Services, two Small Business Administrators, dozens of U.S.
Senators and Members of Congress, and hundreds of other
Public policy is complicated and sometimes seems
irrelevant to the immediate issues business leaders face. But
the market forces involved in health care reform, the affect
the federal debt has on the markets, and the challenges our
antiquated immigration system pose to hiring are all things
business leaders understand. They know how to talk about
how their own bottom line is affected when bad policy take
effect, and they are trusted messengers in their community.
We asked business leaders across the country to tell us what they think federal policymakers should do to
control health care costs and expand coverage. Responses varied, but eight themes emerged.
1. The ACA is working and it could work
better if Congress improved it.
Under the ACA, nearly 20 million more Americans
have insurance, health care inflation has slowed, and
Americans have more choices. It’s not perfect, but
2. ACA repeal, without a plan, will hurt
businesses and the economy.
House Republicans voted to repeal Obamacare
more than 60 times. But they have yet to offer a
workable plan to replace it.
3. A government-run, single payer
system is too risky and could be too
Approximately 180 million Americans have private
insurance. Shifting to a government-run, single payer
system would be risky and could be far more
4. Small businesses need options like the
The ACA provides affordable choices for small
businesses, through marketplace exchanges that
allow small businesses and employees to access
plans with less overhead, red tape, and risk. Before
the ACA, a small business’s insurance rate could rise
dramatically if an employee or family member
suffered an expensive illness or a serious accident.
Eight themes emerged from our discussions with business leaders about health care.
5. Without protections for pre-existing
conditions, executives have a harder
time switching jobs or starting new
Prior to the ACA, executives were less likely to
switch jobs or start their own business if they or a
family member had a pre-existing condition.
6. The ACA’s focus on preventive care
saves money and increases productivity.
Workers with health insurance are more productive
because they take advantage of preventive care, get
sick less often, and face less stress.
7. Affordable health care supports a
competitive and innovative economy.
Affordable health insurance supports a competitive
economy and encourages innovation.
8. Expanding coverage and choice helps
The ACA has reduced the percentage of people
without health insurance to the lowest levels ever.
THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT IS WORKING
It helped 20 million uninsured Americans obtain coverage. It has also:
• reduced costs for small businesses
• increased worker productivity and mobility
• invested in preventative care that will reduce the long-term cost of chronic
conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
To put information, competition, and incentives to work, a health care system must:
1. cover pre-existing conditions
2.require Americans to buy insurance
3.subsidize the cost for lower income families.
THE “THREE-LEGGED STOOL” OF HEALTH CARE
1: MAKE THE BUSINESS CASE
You have a business to run, so you want the time you volunteer to
be meaningful and efficient.
1. Undecided Americans trust business leaders more than
politicians when it comes to health care.
2. Undecided Americans want to know how a particular bill or
issue will affect their industry, their town, and their employer.
A business leader can explain the connection between
national issues and her local economy in ways that matter.
3. A data-driven, results-oriented approach helps depoliticize
2: UNDERSTAND YOUR MISSION
Before you speak out, be sure to understand which role
1. Raising awareness about a problem.
2. Pushing specific provisions or concepts during a legislative process or budget negotiation.
3. Helping close a deal, supporting a tough vote.
3: HAVE A CLEAR OPINION
“On the one hand... but, on the other hand...” won’t help a Member of Congress decide
how to vote, and newspapers are unlikely to publish an op-ed that fails to pick a side. If
you’re going to speak out, be clear. Support a bill. Raise an alarm. Provide cover on a
tough vote. Avoid equivocation.
4: KEEP IT SHORT, KEEP IT SIMPLE
Talking live to a radio reporter? You’ll get two questions and about 20
seconds. Taping a TV interview in your office? The station will use about 30
seconds of your 15-minute interview. Meeting with your Senator? You’ll get
about five minutes.
1. Reporters can’t quote you if your answers are too long.
2. Make your point quickly, and make it repeatedly.
3. Using local examples and simple comparisons can help you
make your point more quickly.
5: SPEAK FOR YOUR EMPLOYEES,
CUSTOMERS, SUPPLIERS AND COMPETITORS
1. You’re most effective when you cite your
employees, customers, suppliers, or
competitors as evidence.
For example, an accountant with 50 employees has
credibility explaining the kinds of health care options
2. Most business leaders share the name of
their company when they talk with
reporters, publish an op-ed, or speak out in
some other way.
These executives are building their company’s brand.
Alternatively, you can also speak generally, without
naming your company, as an expert in the industry.
Each medium also has it’s own rules of engagement – and its own
1. Most newspapers limit op-eds to 600 words. A letter to the editor is usually less than 200.
2. Posts on Facebook and Twitter are often more casual. LinkedIn is more buttoned-up.
3. With TV, you’ll talk to a different audience on a local news broadcast than on a national business news
4. Press releases should be written differently from blog posts, and differently from a formal op-ed.
6: PICK YOUR MEDIUM – AND FOLLOW
7: BECOME A RESOURCE FOR REPORTERS
AND ELECTED OFFICIALS
Business reporters on deadline have a hard time finding
experts – particularly local ones. By introducing yourself
to a reporter who covers an issue that interests you, you
make it easier for her to use you the next time that issue
is in the news.
If a particular issue has a big impact on your business,
offer the reporter a tour of your office or factory.
Do not hesitate to start with smaller outlets or trade
When you call your representatives, consider data, case
studies, or recommendations tied to your business. Also
consider inviting the representative to tour your business.
8: IGNORE LOADED QUESTIONS ABOUT “HOT
The whole point of having business leaders speak out is to get beyond the
partisan or hot button issues that dominate most press coverage. Your job is
to focus on what a particular proposal or problem means for business, jobs,
and economic growth. That’s your area of expertise.
• You’re not obligated to answer any question you don’t feel comfortable answering.
• Learn to “pivot.” Answer the question you wish you had been asked.
• Your messages are your “safe zone.”
9: ACT LIKE YOU’RE ON-THE-RECORD,
EVEN WHEN YOU’RE NOT
As a general rule, we
recommend you operate on-
the-record – and pick your
On-the-record means the
reporter can quote you directly
10: PICK YOUR BATTLES – AND LET
BUSINESS FORWARD HELP
A single business leader, acting alone, is unlikely to have an impact. But hundreds or thousands of business
leaders, making similar arguments at the same time, are hard to ignore.
With your permission, we can also include your comments in testimony we present to Congressional committees
and federal agencies.
Op-eds make an argument about a pressing issue, usually featuring
an unusual and compelling voice from the community. In deciding
whether to publish your piece, editors will ask four questions.
1. Is your issue important?
2. Is it timely?
3. Does it have a significant local angle?
4. And do you have a credible and interesting angle?
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
In contrast to an LTE or op-
eds, blogs should have an
edge. To break through on
websites like Medium and
Huffington Post, you need to
make your point in sharper
LTEs respond directly to an article or op-ed the newspaper has recently published.
200 words or less. Don’t be surprised if the newspaper edits for space.
TV (AND RADIO)
• Stories run from 30 seconds to 5 minutes.
• A typical quote in one of those stories runs about 10 seconds.
• Stay on message; keep it short; keep it local.
• Have three points; practice each point before you speak with the reporter; practice referring back to
them in different ways.
In pre-taped TV interviews, look at the
Be a “happy warrior!”
Capitalize on moments. Use key events to build your audience and
your brand as a business expert. Remain active.
• Be authentic: avoid sounding like a press release.
• Avoid sarcasm.
• Ignore “trolls.”
TALKING TO YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS
A small number of calls (from informed
constituents) can have a bigger impact than you
might think. Regular communication, over time,
builds trust. Be sure to focus on your elected
officials – the ones who represent where you live,
where you work, or your employees.
Use email. Regular mail can take weeks for
delivery. Include the legislation or issue in your
subject line – with a “yes” or “no” to make your
Cite local examples, if you have them. Identify
yourself as a constituent and business leader in
your first paragraph.
Identify yourself as a constituent, identify the topic/bill
you want to discuss, and be clear about your position.
Ask for the Legislative Assistant covering your issue. If
they refer you to a Constituent Liaison, that’s okay. Ask for
the name and email of the staffer responsible for that
issue, then send him or her a follow-up email.
REQUEST A MEETING, OFFER A
Ask for the Legislative Assistant covering your issue.
Request a meeting with the official.
If dealing with a Member of Congress, request a meeting
back home, during in-district work periods. If appropriate,
invite your elected official to visit your place of business.