December 12, 2019: This fall we were sad to learn that fellow advocacy organization Consumer Health First (CHF) would be closing its doors. CHF has long been an ally of the Public Justice Center in fighting to expand access to health care in Maryland. So it was bittersweet when their board president Beth Sammis called to let us know that they planned to donate a portion of their assets to the PJC. Below we share some highlights of CHF’s legacy and why they decided to share this generous gift.
For thirteen years, Consumer Health First served as a “statewide, non-partisan, grassroots alliance of individuals and organizations that sought solutions and advanced reforms to promote health equity through access to comprehensive, affordable, high quality care for all Marylanders.” Founded in 2006 as the Maryland Women’s Coalition for Health Care Reform, CHF conducted policy advocacy, weighed in on state and federal regulations, and developed resources to help consumers understand how to use their health insurance.
One of CHF’s top advocacy priorities was ensuring that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act would benefit Marylander consumers. They served on the committees that designed the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, emphasizing the importance of incorporating health equity principles. They advocated to make sure that the Exchange’s website was easy to use, and that navigators (people trained to help individuals sign up for insurance) had the information they needed to guide consumers through the process.
In addition to health care reform, CHF advocated for insurance companies to treat consumers fairly. They successfully advocated for strong rules for determining whether an insurance company has enough health care providers in its network to meet consumer needs. CHF also analyzed the rates set for individuals on the insurance market during the annual insurance rate review process. The goal was to ensure that premiums were fair and accurately represented the cost of health care services.
Despite CHF’s solid work, sustainability challenges led to the difficult decision to close in June 2019. During this process, CHF decided they wanted to use their assets to further advocacy in Maryland. “We were looking for an organization that had a successful track record of advocating on behalf of a broad section of Marylanders. We also wanted to support an organization that works on health care advocacy,” said Beth Sammis. Several CHF board members had worked with the Public Justice Center and knew that the PJC fit the bill.
“The PJC has a long history of joint advocacy with members of Consumer Health First,” said PJC Executive Director John Nethercut. “Together, we’ve advocated to improve health conditions at the Baltimore City Detention Center, protect and expand Maryland Medicaid through the Medicaid Matters coalition, pass the Healthy Working Families Act with the Working Matters coalition, and implement the Affordable Care Act in Maryland. We will miss having them as an ally of our Access to Health and Public Benefits Project but are honored that CHF chose to sustain our work with this gift.”
CHF knew that health care advocacy requires attention to both the big picture of addressing disparities in access to care and the technical details of making the system effective. In that spirit, the PJC and allies will carry forward the work of building a fair, equitable, and consumer-focused health care system in Maryland. Thank you, Consumer Health First, for your leadership and commitment to fueling future advocacy.