How to Lobby Congress to Help Your Industry
If you are an HME provider, you must know how to make an impact on your Senators and Representative. The industry is in a fight for its life against various policies being implemented by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that have reduced funding for HME providers, diminished patient access to healthcare, and are poised to reduce quality of care and choice for Medicare beneficiaries, as well.
The key issues are competitive bidding, the oxygen rental cap, oxygen reform, and the complex rehab carve out. Providers must understand why policies such as competitive bidding are bad for the industry and providers. Moreover, they must be able to argue why they are bad for the nation’s healthcare infrastructure and will ultimately cost tax payers more by increasing hospital stays, which are much greater financial burden on the overall Medicare budget.
Remember the key message points. Make sure that the message points you deliver will have an impact on legislators. For instance, the 36-month oxygen rental cap and competitive bidding are bad for patients because they limit access to care, can create risky situations when it comes to issues such as rural healthcare, and in the case of competitive bidding, will shutter thousands of small businesses and put tens of thousands of their employees and partners out of work.
Always have an “ask.” Going into a legislative meeting with a list of complaints is not the way you want to lobby Congress. You need to ask them to do something, which is typically referred to as an “ask.” For instance, ask your House Representative to support the HOPP Act, or to pressure CMS to suspend competitive bidding, or to add the NOC’s oxygen reform to any healthcare reform legislation that is introduced into Congress. You must give them a job to do.
Follow up. When you do meet with your Congress member or staff, don’t leave it at the meeting. Your job is not yet over. Follow up with them after a reasonable amount of time to see if they have made a decision or taken action on your “ask.” Don’t feel you are badgering them, they are used to it, and often their “workflow” depends on your follow-up, because if you don’t, then they might consider that lack of follow-up to mean the issue is off the table, or unimportant.
Know the players. Identify your House member and your two senators, as well as their staff. (See learn more.) They should get to know you and you should try to be as helpful and cordial as you can when dealing with them. Be a provider of information that helps them make public policy decisions.
Also, make sure that you are involved with your national and state industry associations. They will help keep you on top of the latest issues and will often provide you with materials that you can use in your lobbying efforts. They will also host events both locally and on the Hill to advocate the industry, and you will want to be part of those events.
Don’t be afraid of staff. While there are some very hands-on members of Congress, they often delegate to their staff. Staff are the eyes and ears of the Congress members. But walking into a congressional office, whether in Washington or at their local district can feel intimidating. Don’t worry. Just remember that there is a very good chance that staffer is even more intimidated. You’re the expert and that can be daunting to them.
Ally with patients and patient groups. Forge strong relationships with your patients and enlist their support in lobbying your congress members. Moreover, get to know patient groups such as AARP and Better Breathers, for example, and see how can work with them to strengthen your lobbying efforts.
Get to know your Representative. Whenever your House member comes back to your district, make an effort to attend the same events and use them as an opportunity to introduce yourself. Your Representative meets a lot of people, so you need to continually reintroduce yourself until they finally know you by name.
Host a site visit. When you feel you have established a good bond with your Representative, invite them to your provider business for a site visit. Demonstrate the lengths to which you go in order to provide top-quality care to your patients. More to the point, have some of your patients present at the site visit so that they can share their stories as to why your services are critical to them, and why those services need to be protected. If you can’t get your member of Congress to come, then invite his or her staff that are based in the district.
Help lawmakers shine. If you can create a public event and get local press outlets to cover it, make sure to invite your Congress members and their staff. Let them know how many of their constituents will attend, and what press outlets will be there. If they do attend, give them an opportunity to stand out at the event, and hopefully deliver a small address. Then follow the event with more press releases that tout the Congress member’s participation in the event in the hopes of getting more coverage, If there is any way you can help your member make some political hay, they will value your input and see you — and homecare — as an important ally.
Points to take away:
- Identify your state Senators and House Representative, and get to know their staff.
- Be a provider of useful policy-making information, and always have a solid request when lobbying.
- Always follow up meetings to ensure you get what you want.
- Try to host a site visit that your Congress members can attend. Also, try to help them by creating an opportunity for them to gain favorable press coverage.
To start, make sure you are involved with your state and national associations. Here are some handy links:
Also, make sure that you identify your Senators and Representative. To find them, visit www.congress.org, or call 202-224-3121 to ask the Capitol Switchboard. You’ll want to know your congressional district, or at the very least, have your zip code handy.
This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of HME Business.