Founded in 1981, Families USA (FUSA)—originally known as the Villers Foundation—is an influential health-care advocacy group that produces public-policy analysis and collaborates with partner groups nationwide to promote “the achievement of high-quality, affordable health care and improved health for all.” “Transforming the health care system is good for America,” says FUSA, because the United States currently “spends more on health care as a percentage of GDP than any other industrialized nation.” Not only is this spending “unsustainable,” FUSA adds, but it “also hampers our ability to fund our nation’s top priorities, such as education.”
Over the years, FUSA has spent tens of millions of dollars organizing and lobbying for health-care coverage for children and the uninsured. While FUSA’s long-term goal is the enactment of a government-run, single-payer medical system, the organization understands that because “single payer is not feasible” from a political perspective, “reform must occur in incremental steps.” The passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in 2010 was, by FUSA’s reckoning, “a huge step forward in making access to health care a reality,” as it “offers consumer protections for everyone” and “helps to control costs for everyone.”
During the pre-Obamacare period of national debate over what the American health-care system should look like, FUSA launched a “Stand Up For Health Care” website to “empower ordinary Americans with the knowledge and opportunity to become leaders in the movement for health care reform.” This project featured a blog and a series of petitions on health-care-related issues. It also initiated a number of letter-writing campaigns seeking to influence Members of Congress.
With the passage of Obamacare in March 2010, FUSA executive director Ron Pollack told the Washington Post: “I’m not worried about the bill. It has its imperfections and there are things we can build on in the future. The immediate concern is implementation. […] It’s implementation that will translate this bill into real health-care reform.”
In an effort to “ensure that everyone who is eligible for coverage [under Obamacare] enrolls to get the care they need,” FUSA dispatched enrollment teams whose members trained the in-person consumer helpers (called “navigators” and “assisters”) tasked with guiding people through the process of applying for health coverage.
When Obamacare proved to be highly unpopular with Americans throughout 2010, FUSA partnered with the Obama administration to try to rehabilitate the legislation’s public image. Anita Dunn, President Obama’s former communications director, and Andrew Grossman, a top Democratic strategist who coordinated grassroots efforts on behalf of health-care reform in 2009, collaborated to create a five-year public-relations campaign consisting of “road shows” designed to provide federal officials with an advocacy platform through which they could promote the new law. Pollack candidly acknowledged that these events were “intended to be media-centric.”
Each year, FUSA runs a Health Care Action (HCA) conference to promote increased levels of government control over the American health-care system. Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett was a featured speaker at the 15th HCA conference in January 2010.
Arguing that America’s health-care system has traditionally been beset by racism and discrimination, FUSA laments that “communities of color disproportionately face barriers to high-quality, affordable health care.” Thus, says the organization, “we must eliminate the glaring disparities that exist between those who can get health care and those who lack access to it but need it most.”
FUSA’s Medicaid Program works with state partners to help them expand access to Medicaid under Obamacare in their respective states. It also strives to use carefully crafted messaging to “increase public support” for such expansion, and it produces reports to “educate state legislatures about the benefits of [Medicaid] expansion to state budgets, the economy, and the health of state residents.”
Similarly, FUSA promotes changes in federal policy “to expand enrollment in programs that serve Medicare beneficiaries with limited incomes.” Moreover, it seeks to promote legislation that would ensure adequate and sustained funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Another key FUSA initiative is its “Oral Health For All” advocacy campaign, which, in partnership with the DentaQuest Foundation, aims to “expand access to oral health coverage to the more than 130 million Americans who currently lack such coverage.” Toward this end, FUSA calls for: “adding an oral health benefit” to Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and all “subsidized marketplace health insurance plans.”
One of FUSA’s co-founders, Ron Pollack, announced in May 2016 that he would step down from his post as the organization’s executive director in March 2017. Pollack, who is also the founding board chairman of Enroll America, has a long history as an influential figure in Washington. In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed him to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry, where he helped draft a Patients’ Bill of Rights. The Hill and the National Journal have both cited Pollack as one of Washington’s top nonprofit lobbyists, while Modern Healthcare named him as one of the “100 Most Powerful People in Health Care.”
FUSA’s other co-founder, Philippe Villers, is currently on the organization’s Board of Directors. He also serves on the ACLU‘s President’s Committee, and on Amnesty International USA’s Executive Directors Council.
Over the years, FUSA has received funding from such entities as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Institute, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.