case study

Closing the Medicaid Coverage Gap


The Challenge

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) empowered and incentivized states to expand their Medicaid programs, leading to nearly 19 million additional people gaining Medicaid coverage since 2014. Yet, 12 states have refused for years to expand their Medicaid programs under the ACA, denying more than 2.2 million people—disproportionately people of color and those with low incomes—access to quality and affordable healthcare coverage.

Congress has an unprecedented opportunity to expand healthcare coverage to people caught in the “Medicaid coverage gap” through its budget reconciliation process. The communications charge was to elevate the stories of people caught in the gap, share data and research that show Medicaid expansion works and break through the crowded media landscape to ensure Medicaid is top of mind during the reconciliation process by focusing on target states and Capitol Hill.  

Our Approach

Burness worked with four other firms and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to elevate the importance of expanding Medicaid in key states that  have not expanded Medicaid. The firms drew on their unique strengths and coordinated across the work to ensure maximum exposure and reach. Importantly, we tapped into the expertise of advocacy groups to craft messages that would resonate and support other efforts happening on the Hill. 

  • To ensure that our messages would be well-received, we elevated three primary spokespeople, trained them and deployed them across multiple channels.
  • We executed a comprehensive communications strategy for a “surround sound” approach, including: media outreach, op-ed campaigns, digital content development, digital and social media advertising, congressional briefings and meetings, and research sharing. 
  • We partnered with a wide range of organizations to advance a broad coalition of support for Medicaid expansion, including public health groups and racial justice organizations.
  • We supported other firm efforts related to storytelling, graphic development, learning sessions for Congressional staff and more.

Results and Impact:

Even amid a challenging legislative landscape, our combined efforts have kept this issue at the forefront of the national policy conversation. Our collective efforts have resulted in:

  • National media coverage led by Dr. Rich Besser, including multiple op-eds in The Hill, an extensive discussion during a Washington Post Live event that garnered over 160,000 viewers, coverage in USA Today, and an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program.
  • Securing a meeting with Senator Ralphael Warnock (D-GA), the leader in the U.S. Senate pushing for closing the Medicaid coverage gap.
  • An op-ed campaign with placements in 9 of  12 non-expansion states. 
  • State and local sponsored content reaching all 50 states with over 1,000 placements.
  • Over 30 media hits in print, TV and radio.
  • Expansive social media reach through organic posting, paid efforts and partner sharing.
  • Establishing and growing the vice president of policy’s digital presence as a leading voice on policy for RWJF.

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