Michigan Universal Health Care Access Network

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This page is a summary of our April, 1999 meeting. Christy Hawkins, a communications specialist with Teamsters for a Democratic Union, led a lively discussion on this topic.

Tips for Writing Letters to the Editor

  • Watch for opportunities to get out your point of view. The first step is reading the newspapers. Follow the articles about health care issues. Check out the opinion column to get a feel for what kind of letters to the editor are published.

  • Make sure your letter is relevant. You should reference a specific story or issue that has been in the news. List the date published and headline in your letter, if possible.

  • Respond quickly. You have a better chance of getting your letter published if you send it in within a few days of the original story you are responding to.

  • Be brief. The newspaper might edit your letter for length or clarity, but if it has to be chopped too much, it won't get printed. For most papers, 300 words is the maximum length; 100 words is even better.

  • Stick to one main point. Even though you may have a lot to say about the issue, or you want to bring up several points about the article, try to make only one main point in your letter, so your message is clear.

  • Make your letter stand out. Use humor, a personal story, or some other original twist to make your letter stand out from the others received.

  • Don't personally attack the reporter. Most newspapers will print letters that strongly disagree with articles in the newspaper - or the opinions expressed in op-ed columns or quotes. But they won't print letters that include personal attacks. Besides landing your letter in the reject pile, you might alienate a reporter who can help you get a story into print at a later date.

  • Be neat. Your letter doesn't have to be typed on a typewriter or printed off a computer. But it should be neat and readable. If it is typed or printed, double-spaced lines are best.

  • Don't forget to include identifying information. Most papers will want to print your name and where you're from if they print your letter. Many won't print a letter unless they are able to confirm with a telephone call that you actually wrote it. Remember to include your name, address, and a day-time phone number when you write.

  • Expect to be edited. Editors chop off sentences or whole paragraphs frequently, sometimes leaving only one or two sentences of the original letter. You should protest only if the editing actually distorts your point of view.

  • Don't blame yourself if the letter is not printed. Newspapers have their own agenda. Their reasons for printing or not printing a particular letter on a particular day may be technical, or political, or entirely arbitrary. Depending on the publication, perhaps only a small percentage of the letters sent in will be printed. Try again at a later date anyway.


1st Paragraph:
Make reference to the original story (headline, date). Briefly introduce your point of view.

2nd Paragraph:
Make your case. (Use more than one paragraph if necessary.)

3d Paragraph:
Sum up your argument with a neat conclusion.

Sample arguments for letters to the editor on health care issues

On privatizing Medicare:
Privatizing Medicare moves us in the wrong direction. It would spend public money on insurance company bureaucracy, high executive compensation, and private shareholder profits, leaving much less to pay for health care. The myth is that private companies are automatically more "efficient" than government agencies. The fact is that administrative expenses of the Medicare program now are only 2% of the total cost. For private insurers, administrative expenses in the 10-12% range are typical.

On the plans of the Bi-partisan Commission for Medicare:
The proposed "reforms" for Medicare are based on a simple plan - shift some the cost of health care from the Medicare program to the private budgets of the sick and their families. This is not just speculation. In their world wide web presentation they said, "Today, beneficiaries pay nearly 30 percent of their health care costs from their own pockets. ... In the future, out-of-pocket costs are expected to rise." They expect the cost of medical care to rise, and they think they have solved the problem if the Medicare program pays for less. Raising the age of eligibility for the program is only one proposed way of making the sick pay.

On the Patients' Bill of Rights:
The various bills propose a right to see medical specialists, a right to appeal insurance company decisions about medical care, a right to access your own medical information, and even (in the most radical version) the right to sue your insurance company if they don't deliver on the coverage they promised. All of these rights are meaningless without the basic right to necessary medical treatment. That is, the are meaningless to the 43 million uninsured and to the additional millions who are under insured, and to the further millions who will become uninsured at the first economic downturn. What we need is the right to health care, not just the right to whatever health care we can afford.

On an HMO "horror story":
This HMO horror story is just one example of what's wrong with a bottom-line health care system that puts profits ahead of patients. These companies do not exist to provide medical care. They exist to make money by denying medical care. If we got all the profit motive and the outside administrators out of our hospitals and doctor's offices, we should be able to provide affordable health care for everyone. We might be able to catch up to every other advanced country in the world by creating national health insurance and making medical fraud and price-gouging a federal crime.

On medical savings accounts:
There is no question that the current hodgepodge of employer, private, government, and no medical insurance is completely wrong and should be drastically reformed. The real question is the direction of that reform.

Medical savings accounts are a favorite reform scheme of the Republican Party and the American Medical Association. The basic idea is to set up a financial reward for those who manage to stay well. The other side of that coin is punishment for those are unlucky enough to become sick or injured. This plan is consistent with the every man for himself, dog-eat-dog vision of a perfectly competitive society.

There is a another vision of society based on the idea that we are all in this together. The principle is that the strong and whole take care of the sick and injured, recognizing they are lucky to be strong and whole, and that one day they may be sick and injured themselves. The plan consistent with this vision of society is a single-payer national health insurance, financed by taxes, making access to necessary medical care a right, not a privilege of private wealth.

Those are the opposing directions. Where do you want to go today?