Members of Congress will spend more time in their respective districts this year. This is great news for both experienced and new advocates, because members of Congress are often more accessible when they are home. If you are apprehensive about meeting with your members of Congress in Washington, D.C., these district work periods provide the perfect opportunity to begin building a valuable relationship with your legislators. Here are a few ways for you to reach out to your legislators while they are at home.
- Meet with your members of Congress in their district office. Face-to-face meetings provide an intimate opportunity for you to discuss issues of importance to the rheumatology community and leave a lasting impression on your members of Congress. Your legislators also will have more time to spend with you because they will not be called away to vote or rush off to attend committee meetings. Visit the ACR Legislative Action center at www.rheumatology.org/advocacy to find the district office nearest you.
- Invite your legislator to your office. Members of Congress will schedule more events during the district work periods. This is an opportune time to extend an invitation for your representative or senator to visit your office. Office visits are a great way to educate and demonstrate the specialized care you provide to your patients. For assistance on coordinating an office visit, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Attend a town hall meeting. Legislators will often schedule town hall meetings during district work periods to gather constituent input on multiple issues. Town halls are a great way to voice your concerns and ask your legislator to take action. Make sure to follow up with your member of Congress or one of their staff regarding your issues. Most members of Congress announce town halls through mailings, e-mail, or through social media. You can always call the district office to find out when the next meeting is scheduled.
Members of Congress hear from lobbyists every day but are most influenced by their constituents. You only need to make that first phone call to schedule a meeting or show up at a town hall to begin a dialogue with your members of Congress that can lead to positive action for the rheumatology subspecialty.
Eric L. Matteson, MD, a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and chair of the ACR Committee on Communications and Marketing, sees great benefits in meeting with his elected officials. “The principal value of meeting with our representative was that it made a human connection with the issues we have related to healthcare and how they affect our ability to provide quality care to our patients. Congressman Tim Walz got to know better why and with what passion and commitment we pursue our interest, and to see us as individuals who care rather than as more or less anonymous stakeholder entities,” he says.
Why I’m an Advocate
I’ve taken the opportunity to meet with my congressman [Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.)] locally on numerous occasions. Like many congresspersons, he has several district offices where he has office hours. One happens to be two blocks from my house at a local health center, the perfect setting to discuss medical issues. He has monthly hours and appears personally when Congress is not in session. These local events are less crowded and provide more face-to-face time with the Congressman.
Local meetings do make a difference. I have now been to half a dozen Capitol Hill visits, and although it is often difficult to meet Rep. Capuano personally in D.C., his health legislative aide knows me and seems to know when I’ve made contact in the district as well. The other thing that has helped my relationship with Rep. Capuano’s office is that I volunteered for his campaign. The Congressman and his staff always make time for me as their busy schedules permit.
Recently, during the healthcare reform debate, all of the Massachusetts delegation signed a letter about the Sustainable Growth Rate, and it was at one of these local events that I got him to sign on to that letter. The cliché is that all politics is local, but my experience is that the effort to meet locally bears fruit.
—William Harvey, MD, Division of Rheumatology, Tufts Medical Center, Boston