Reviving legislation on life support

The Challenge
In May 2021, the Illinois General Assembly unanimously passed a bill to shift Medicaid reimbursements for private ambulance transports from the state’s Managed Care Organizations to the traditional fee-for-service. Despite the universal legislative support for the measure, which would free up critical funding to increase first responders’ pay during the COVID-19 pandemic and reduce patient response times, Governor J.B. Pritzker sent signals he would veto the bill. 

Our Approach
The Illinois State Ambulance Association (ISAA) enlisted Culloton + Bauer Luce to launch a public affairs campaign to empower the legislature to override the Governor’s threatened veto.

With just two calendar weeks to make our client’s case, CBL devised an aggressive communications plan to showcase the danger of vetoing this measure and the need to sustain the original policy to ensure patients wouldn’t suffer in the midst of a pandemic. 

CBL’s strategy came down to three basic but not-so-easy to accomplish feats in such a short timeframe: 

  1. Simplify the message: Managed care organizations. Fee-for-service. So. Much. Jargon. Our first move was to clearly identify what good this bill did and what a veto would upend. We translated the bureaucratic language about shifting reimbursement payments from one source to another into the human impact a veto would have on everyday people: patients = longer response times, first responders = lower pay (during a pandemic). 
  2. Secure the right messenger: We worked with three ambulance providers in different regions of the state, first responders and a key legislative sponsor as spokespeople to  emphasize why this unanimously supported legislation was smart public policy for patients and first responders.
  3. Sell the message: This legislation had largely gone unnoticed in the spring legislative session, but with our simplified message and regional spokespeople readily available to explain it on the record, reporters quickly understood the gravity of the issue and the significant news value. 

Our press strategy started with an exclusive mention of the threatened veto in a key media outlet followed closely by Illinois Statehouse types, and we continued to aggressively seed the issue with healthcare and Springfield press corps members. With increasing coverage, Chicago broadcast and radio outlets picked up the story, demonstrating a momentum of public attention and support for sustaining the unanimously passed legislation. 

CBL also drafted and placed letters to the editor from association members in key media outlets throughout the state, while also supporting our client in submitting letters to the Governor and senior members of his administration to stress the devastating impact a veto would have.  

Proven Results
While the Governor ultimately followed through on his veto threat, CBL’s media blitz gave the legislature cover for its swift, successful override of the veto just a week later. Over the course of our 14-day engagement, the CBL team secured media attention in favor of the legislation in all 10 of Illinois’ media markets.  

CBL also received a public affairs award from the Publicity Club of Chicago for this advocacy campaign.