In February, dozens of ACR and ARHP volunteer leaders walked the halls of Capitol Hill to talk with lawmakers about issues affecting the rheumatology community. Members of the ACR’s Government Affairs committee, RheumPAC committee, and Affiliate Society Council met with dozens of legislators and their staff members.
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These face-to-face meetings focused on 1) ensuring patient access to rheumatology by replacing the Sustainable Growth Rate formula in the right way, 2) improving access to biologics by reining in excessive Tier IV cost sharing, and 3) redirecting sequestration cuts to prevent reductions in Medicare and physician pay. In addition, volunteers described the devastating impact that sequestration cuts would have on the National Institutes of Health budget, which could stall America’s research engine and cost many jobs. This May, members of the ACR’s Board of Directors and committee leaders will again converge on Capitol Hill to meet directly with lawmakers about the issues affecting rheumatology.
Meetings held in Washington, D.C., are important ways to make a difference in the future of rheumatology. But did you know you can also make a difference from home, right now? Your lawmakers need to hear from you directly about the need for appropriate Medicare reimbursement so that patients can continue to see a rheumatologist. They need to know about the impact the excessive cost sharing of specialty tiers will have on patients, and about the need to increase funding for medical research so that we can advance treatments, or find cures, for rheumatic diseases.
Hearing your personal story and your specific “asks” help move health policy in the right direction.
Use the ACR’s Advocacy Toolkit to Make a Difference
At www.rheumatology.org/advocacy you will find easy-to-use resources to help you effectively advocate and articulate your message to lawmakers.
1. Ways to Contact Your Representative and Senators
- Convey your message in person. Over time face-to-face meetings will help you build important relationships with your legislator and his or her staff. These meetings do not have to happen only in Washington, D.C.; they can be held at a congressional member’s district office. Home district meetings are very effective, and you can invite your members of Congress to tour your offices to learn more about what you are doing. ACR government affairs staff can help facilitate these meetings.
- Schedule a meeting with your representative while Congress is on recess. Congress breaks for recess during the first week in April, and from April 27 through May 5, 2013. This is the perfect time to schedule a meeting. Visit the ACR Legislative Action Center at www.rheumatology.org/advocacy to find your nearest district office or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for scheduling assistance.
- Invite your legislator to tour your office. Most members of Congress do not know that rheumatologists undertake years of additional training to provide expert care to patients with arthritis and rheumatic conditions. Additionally, most legislators are not familiar with the many forms of arthritis and are not aware that a wide segment of the population is affected by these diseases. What better way to show your legislator the specialized care you provide to your patients than inviting him or her to visit your office? Click on “Toolkit” on the Advocacy page for a sample invitation letter you can use as a guide or, for more assistance, contact the ACR Government Affairs Department at email@example.com.
- Call your congressional representative. Calling your member of Congress is one of the easiest ways to bring the issues of the rheumatology community to his or her attention. Call the AMA’s Grassroots Hotline at (800) 833-6354 for more information on how to contact your legislator by phone.
- Send an e-mail to your elected official. E-mail is another quick and effective method to of getting your message to your elected official. Use the ACR’s Legislative Action Center, available by clicking on “Legislative Action Center” on the Advocacy page. Be sure to personalize your message.
- Address a handwritten note to your legislator. Letters are a formal but very effective way to introduce yourself and tell your legislator your stances on issues. Short, handwritten letters are best. Include your full address so that he or she knows you live in the legislator’s home district. Because mail to Congress may take time, you should also fax the handwritten letter. You can find all contact information for your member of Congress on the ACR Legislative Action Center page.
- Follow your representative’s social media network. Every member of Congress is now using social media like Facebook and Twitter, for a number of purposes: publicizing town halls and local events, soliciting constituent opinions, or announcing developments on legislation. By becoming a member of your legislator’s social network, you can stay current on the latest happenings and express your opinions on issues affecting your district and the rheumatology community.
2. Tips for Making an Impact
- Be prepared. The key to influencing the people who represent you is showing them that you are a well-informed, committed constituent whom they should seek out for reliable information. Let them know that you are a rheumatology professional, a constituent, and that you want to discuss an issue affecting rheumatology and your patients. Before meeting or calling your legislator, familiarize yourself with the ACR’s legislative priorities and positions by clicking on “Legislative Priorities” on the Advocacy page.
- Be a good source of information. To build a relationship with your member of Congress, you need to be a source of credible information. Understand and be able to discuss both sides of complex issues. You will gain credibility if you can both educate and persuade.
- Personalize your message. Congressional offices are inundated with requests and information from the public. Sharing your personal experiences with your member of Congress and his or her staff will ensure they see your unique connection to your issue.
- Be polite. Communicate with your representative clearly and concisely. Even if you are frustrated, be sure to use a polite tone and appropriate language at all times.
- Ask for a response. Ask directly and politely for the legislator’s views and position on the issue and the ways in which he or she plans to address it.
- Follow up. Whether you make a phone call, write a letter, or have an in-person meeting, send a follow-up note to your representative or their staffer. In the note, thank them for the time they spent with you, summarize the issue(s) you discussed, and reiterate your request(s). Click on “Toolkit” on the Advocacy page for a sample follow-up letter you can use as a guide.
3. Get Your Patients Involved
Your patients are valuable constituents who can relay compelling stories about their frustration with excessively expensive coinsurance for medications they need, restrictions in Medicare reimbursements, and the lack of research funding in rheumatology.