As I reported in last week's cover story, Kansas lawmakers are swimming in campaign contributions from health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, medical societies and various other industry interests.
That doesn't mean nobody in Topeka is representing regular people. The Kansas Health Consumer Coalition might not make campaign contributions to senators and representatives, but it's trying to influence them in other ways -- namely with facts, gathered through the hard work of actually talking to regular people. For example, there's this video, which the Coalition made as part of a two-year project that brought together random people from Garden City, Overland Park and Pittsburgh, Kansas, to talk about their views on health coverage.
"By far that project has been one of the most impactful things we've done as far as getting the average person's voice out to stakeholders, policy makers and legislators," says Corrie Edwards, the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition's Executive Director.
"We had a large number of responses after sending people CDs of that
video. We've obviously got a problem here and the average
citizen is hurting. That project was done before the recession started,
so you know even more people are hurting now."
Her group's mission is simple: "to advocate for affordable, accessible and quality health care in Kansas."
In a year like this, that hasn't been easy.
"This has been a very stagnant year, with, unfortunately, really no successes to show," she says of health-care reforms efforts during the Kansas Legislature's 2009 session. Lawmakers have been preoccupied with the state's budget problems -- but that focus tends to ignore easy health-care fixes that could save the state money.
"We've got some legislators in leadership positions who, it would appear, get substantial contributions from pharmaceutical industries and tobacco companies," Edwards says, "and that has put up a roadblock for some of the most obvious legislation to be passed -- like the Clean Indoor Air Act." The statewide public smoking ban, Edwards says, "wouldn't cost the state any money. It's heavily debated -- but I don't understand it. We spend millions and millions of dollars, on Medicaid recipients in particular, to get treatment for smoking-related illnesses, and we continue to drag our feet on this. The legislators who are most opposed to this, it would appear, get contributions from tobacco companies."
To counter that kind of influence, Edwards says, there are a lot of things average people can do. "They can contact their legislators, write letters to the editor, they can hold community and neighborhood meetings, get petitions going. We had a woman get a bunch of neighborhood kids together to draw pictures of what a healthy Kansas would look like to send to legislators. People can get involved with an organization like ours that advocates on behalf of regular consumers. Certainly we feed out a lot of informational material."
It's not as sexy as writing a check. But information is power, too.