Families USA executive director Ron Pollack does not know how the Supreme Court will rule on the Affordable Care Act, or even when the decision will be made. This is what he does know: His group has a press release ready for it.
For weeks now, the pro-health reform nonprofit has had a cache of seven separate statements, reacting to the various ways the Supreme Court could rule. There’s one for the law being completely upheld. Another for it being totally overturned. One for if just the individual mandate is struck down, but a totally separate release should the mandate and the guaranteed issue of health insurance both fall. That’s just four of them.
Pollack got nervous Wednesday that all that preparation might not be enough. So he drafted an eighth statement, one reacting to the Court striking down the individual mandate, guaranteed issue and subsidies but leaving everything else intact.
“I know it sounds ridiculous,” Pollack says, “But how many things do you want to be unprepared for?”
The health reform case is among the more complex that the Supreme Court has faced in its modern history. The justices heard five-and-a-half hours of oral arguments on the law – the longest in 45 years – on four separate legal challenges to the law.
The Court’s decision may not be a yes or no verdict. Many observers expect it to fall somewhere in between, with some parts of the law upheld and others tossed out.
That uncertainty lead Families USA to take an all-hands-on-deck approach to preparing its reactions. Weeks ago, Pollack wrote the first draft of seven statements which all were then vetted by the group’s legal, health policy and communications teams. He describes it as a fairly “disciplined process.”
As the decision has neared – its expected by the end of the month -Pollack has gone to the Supreme Court each day it has released rulings. The Court usually issues rulings on Mondays, but sometimes other weekdays as well. Communications staff goes with him, bringing along copies of all the statements, ready to hand only the right one out to reporters, should the justices opine.
Back at the Families USA headquarters, at 12th Street and New York Avenue NW, Pollack’s legal analyst is monitoring the Web site SCOTUSBlog for the Court’s ruling. And it’s his job, when the ruling does come out, to rapidly read the opinions and tell Pollack which statement gets blasted out. Time, at that point, is of the essence.
“Our goal is to have the statement out within minutes of the decision,” Pollack says. “The moment we know which statement is relevant, we’ll be sending it out.”
Families USA also will be coordinating with health reform supporters and advocates, blasting out the news to their 100,000-person e-mail list. It will follow up the next day at 1 p.m., with a phone call to answer questions from the groups across the country with which it coordinates.
That e-mail blast to advocates comes at the heels of a two-day session that Families USA held last week, with advocates from battleground states, where they talked about how best to coordinate messages for all the possible rulings.
“Much of the discussion was about what we do after the court decision,” he says. “We talked about messages under different scenarios so that we would have coordinated efforts across the country.”
Until then, the eight statements are held in a computer folder in the Families USA office, each representing a different possible future for the Affordable Care Act. For a landmark Supreme Court decision, Pollack says, “we might as well be thorough.”