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Media and Messaging Tips You Need to Know about the Affordable Care Act

In light of the 24 hour news cycle and the rise of sound-bite journalism it’s not surprising that talking to the media can be a tricky prospect. As we approach the second enrollment period, learning how to talk to the press about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a skill that every health advocate should have in their back pockets.

Here are a few pointers on how to prepare for a media interview from a training provided by Families USA’s Jessica Kendall and Becky Knight.

The media are looking for stories on the ACA and you have them. So what do you do when a reporter contacts you?

The most important question to think about is “why agree to a media interview?”

Knight said each media interview is a marvelous opportunity to get YOUR messages out – not the reporter’s. To control how the interview will go, you will need to prepare for the interview and it’s important to ask for that time. Even if the reporter asks for the phone interview immediately, kindly tell them that you are in the middle of something and will call him or her back in an hour.  It is very likely that the reporter will agree to this since you are the subject matter expert.

To prepare for the interview, Knight said to take twenty minutes to:

  • Learn about the audience.
  • Learn about the reporter. What kind of reporter is he or she? Is he or she a health reporter or someone who usually covers politics? This information is important to know since it will give you an idea of how much health context you will need to provide in your interview.
  • Learn about the story angle. Will it be a consumer interest story or a hard-hitting news story?
  • Learn why they are reaching out to you.
  • Learn about who will also be interviewed for the story. It’s okay to ask the reporter this question.
  • Prepare your messages. Because you are the content expert, you often know too much and sometime forget about your key points. You will want to write down 3-4 key points and how you can support them. Speak from your head (with brief statistics) and from your heart (with real stories from your community).

Blocking and Bridging during your interview. Blocking and bridging are key phases you can use to take control of the conversation, you can use this method to refocus the reporter to the issue you want to discuss:

  • The real issue is…
  • The things to remember are…
  • The most important thing is…
  • That’s why your listeners / readers need to know…

Knight said it’s important to practice this blocking and bridging method by role playing with colleagues and friends.

Here are other tips to remember while you are doing the interview:

  • Be prepared.
  • Keep your key messages brief and simple.
  • Practice to control the conversation by bridging and blocking and summarize your key points at the end of the interview.
  • Stick to what you know and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to the question. You don’t want to be quoted with incorrect information.
  • Don’t fear silence. Embrace the silence and it is not your job to fill the silence – it’s the reporter. Often when you find yourself needing to fill the silence you will stray from your key points.

Messages you want to move. Of course, as advocates and supporters of the Affordable Care Act, there are specific messages that you want to convey during this interview. Here are suggested messages provided by the Connecticut Health Foundation as part of an ongoing effort to provide information about how Connecticut residents have been positively affected by the ACA through increase access to health insurance coverage:

 “We cannot go back to a day when…”

  • Insurance companies denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition, like breast cancer or diabetes.
  • Women paid more than men for the same health insurance coverage.
  • Preventive care services like mammograms were out of reach, and early detection of critical illnesses was delayed, often until it was too late.
  • Insurance companies raised rates without justification.

 “Connecticut residents are benefiting every day…”

  •  More than 250,000 Connecticut residents have received quality, affordable health coverage through Access Health CT. This means they have access to—and have started using—important benefits like doctor visits, prescriptions, preventive care and more.
  • Every Connecticut resident can no longer be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition, or have an annual or lifetime cap on their care.
  • More Connecticut residents than ever before have mental health and substance use disorder benefits.
  • Young adults in Connecticut have gained health insurance because they can now stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26.

Here are great resources and graphics to support the above messages.

Lastly, you don’t need to wait for the media to come to you. You can pitch stories to your local reporter, and here are tips on how to pitch your passion provided by investigative reporter Zachary Janowski.

Hopefully these tips will help you as they have helped me during this during exciting time of healthcare transformation.  Please share with me other tips you have found useful below.


About Heang Tan

Heang Tan is the project director and editor for HealthJusticeCT. You can find her tweeting about health equity and other random things @heangtan

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