How to talk to Congress about the issues

(from AMA Wire) – Members of Congress will be heading home in a few weeks for summer recess to meet with their constituents—now’s the time to make sure you get a seat at the table to make sure your legislators are well-informed on the issues that you care about. Learn from an expert how to conduct in-person visits with legislators and how to keep that relationship going.

Jim Wilson, PhD, manager of the AMA’s political education programs including the popular AMPAC Candidate Workshop and AMPAC Campaign School, recently spoke about advocating for health care issues during a session at the 2016 AMA Annual Meeting.

You are the best advocate for your patients—and yourself

“There are a whole lot of people who don’t have anywhere near the training you [do],” Wilson said. “Yet they help drive decisions that determine how you do” your work.

“No one else is going to be able to do this for you,” he said. “You’re the best possible advocate that you can have.” So what do you do when you want a member of Congress or a state legislator to vote for or against a bill that you feel strongly about?

Figure out a way to engage legislators on a year-round basis, Wilson said. “It’s important that when you want them to do something, you’re not only there when you need something. Because then they say, ‘Well, they only call me when they want me to do something, but I had a question about loan policy three months ago, and I emailed them and I never heard back.’”

“It’s easy to get cynical about politics,” Wilson said. “Think about it in a different way.” Try to have a symbiotic relationship with them: They need information on health care policy, and you need help with legislation.

“Keep in mind that your elected representatives expect this of different groups,” Wilson said. “If you’re not in the office, the drug company will be, the insurance company will be …. It’s a representative democracy; you have a right to petition the government for grievances, and if you’re not petitioning for grievances, somebody else will be.”

In a survey conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation, senators’ and representatives’ offices were asked how much influence certain activities have on their decision making. The No. 1 influence was in-person visits from constituents.

“They expect you to be there,” Wilson said. “They expect to hear from you …. When you’re personally taking the time to visit your representative, you’re making a difference.”

How to be better at advocacy “asks”

When you prepare for a meeting—whether it’s in Washington or your state capitol or even the county commissioner’s office—take time to better understand who your lawmaker is, Wilson said.

To better understand your legislator, pay attention to these four things:

The visit

Once you have done your research and are prepared, it’s time for the visit. But how do you conduct yourself from the moment you enter the office?

In August, Congress will head home for the annual month-long summer recess during which time lawmakers will be back in their districts holding constituent meetings, listening sessions and town halls. Take the time to learn the issues that you care about and set up a meeting to make those concerns known. Check out AMA resources to learn about Medicare payment reform or visit SaveGME.org to learn about advocacy efforts regarding student loan debt.