Government Affairs

Forging Advocacy Ambassadors

Providers are in a fight for their livelihoods. National competitive bidding is set to go nationwide with Round Two, which will be implemented in summer of 2013, and they must somehow convince Congress that it must replace NCB with its market pricing proposal. The market pricing proposal takes the recommendations of University of Maryland economist and bid model professor Peter Cramton and 200 economists and experts to create a market-based pricing system for HME that doesn’t involve imploding the industry.

But while providers are in the fight for their livelihoods, patients are often in the fight of their lives. In many cases patient’s ability to live their lives independently and out of a hospital is in jeopardy. The terrible impact of Medicare policies such as competitive bidding is that the patients are the ones to feel the most pain. A provider might lose his business, which his terrible, but a patient stands to lose much more.

Bearing that in mind, providers must enlist those patients into their industry advocacy efforts. This can have tremendous impact because patients make the most convincing arguments. When a patient describe how NCB blocks their access to much-needed care, negatively impact their quality of life, and force them to seek hospital treatment. That is something that a lawmaker will not dismiss out of hand, especially if that patient happens to be sitting in his or her office. Here are some ways to give patients the direction, information, tools and techniques to help them lobbying on behalf of the MPP and your business:

Start by finding your “grass tops.” Anyone in grassroots organizing will tell you that it is essential to identify not just advocates, but the right advocates. Patients are a mercurial bunch — just like any group of people. They all have their own individual aims, desires and motivations for why they want to reach out to government, and if you don’t pick the right ones, it can backfire on you. You want patient advocates who can present will, engage lawmakers and convince those lawmakers why replacing NCB with the MPP is critical. You do not want someone who is going go off half-cocked and, while well intentioned,undermine your aims.

Moreover, you want to find patients that have ample available time to support your efforts. They also need to be willing to have face-to-face meetings with lawmakers and staff, and can delivery a smooth, convincing presentation. And they also need to be amenable to doing the work of supporting advocacy efforts through making phone calls and sending emails. You are looking for patients who can be the face of your lobbying efforts, as well as its backbone.

Identify a Point Person

Nominate a staff liaison who can interface with patients and organize them. Whoever this person is (it might be yourself) should be regularly identifying patients that can help in lobbying efforts and reach out to them to collect their contact information so that they can start sending those patients information and important updates and calls to action.

Provide Regular Updates

If you want to ensure that you have your advocates continue working for you, then maintain a regular stream of information going to them. This not only keeps them in tune with what is going on with the public policies that affect them, but it also keeps them active and involved. If you don’t provide them with information on a somewhat regular basis, they won’t have much of a sense of urgency.

Be the Ringmaster

While you want your patient advocates to have their own initiative and be self-starters in terms of working to protect their Medicare benefits, and thus your business, you will also want to maintain a baseline level of control and be in a position where you can help orchestrate your patients’ advocacy efforts to ensure that they coincide with industry efforts. Monitor the lobbying efforts of industry associations and then create a patient effort that complements that effort. For example, right now would be an ideal to have patients stage an email and call-in campaign calling on lawmakers to urge the Congressional Budget Office to score the MPP.

Facilitate Meetings

Once you have identified your champions, make sure that you set up the meetings between your patients and your Representative or his or her legislative (and of course be a part of those meetings yourself). But you want to be the lynch pin in this meeting so that you can coach the patient and help him or her craft a solid and convincing presentation. Plus by being there with the patient and helping him or her, you will also ease any nervousness your patient might have, which will of course benefit the presentation.

And there’s another important reason why you want to facilitate the process. For some patients, such as mobility patients, meeting with a lawmaker can be physically challenging. Getting dressed and ready, ensuring attendant care and traveling to the meeting can be an involved process. This can be a good opportunity for your staff liaison to step in and help to arrange the meeting and ensure all access requirements will be met will go a long way toward ensuing a positive outcome.

Points to take away:

  • It is critical for providers to enlist their patients in their industry advocacy efforts. Patients often make the most convincing arguments.
  • Providers need to be selective in terms of which patients they engage in industry advocacy. Seek the so-called “grass tops.”
  • Have someone on staff that can function as chief liaison so that patients have a single person with whom to coordinate.
  • Keep patients regularly updated on news developments so that you keep them actively engaged.
  • Orchestrate patient efforts to coincide with industry-wide campaigns.
  • Facilitate meetings between patients and lawmakers to ensure those patients have the services and accessibility they need at the meeting.

Learn More:

You can collect excellent information, updates and lobbying resources from the national associations and your state associations.

American Association for Homecare

National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers

Accredited Medical Equipment Providers of America

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of HME Business.


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