Observation Deck

The New Guys in Washington

The 113th Congress now sits on the Hill. How should you work with them?

The election is now over and the first session of the new, 113th Congress will include a large crop of freshmen lawmakers. Just as I wrote after the 2008 election, educating and influencing these newly elected Representatives and Senators is critical to changing public policy for the DME industry. That’s where you, the supplier, come in. Regardless of what happened in the last weeks of 2012, DME will continue to be in the crosshairs of Congress and CMS.

As an industry, we must ensure that DME is a part of the future of U.S. healthcare, and that can only be realized if the supplier community gets involved. Not just the stalwart owners and stakeholders must be engaged, but also the rank and file supplier owners and managers who make up the thousands of suppliers that serve millions of patients in their homes. Not a single supplier owner can afford to wait for someone else to be his or her advocate.

Strike While the Metal Is Hot

With the new Congress beginning its work on legislation that will be passed in the first 100 days, some suppliers have one unique opportunity to make a difference: There are 84 new Representatives and 12 new Senators making up the freshmen class of 2013. A few of these are veteran lawmakers assuming new roles, but most are fresh faces that have yet to be pulled fully into theWashington establishment.

If one of these newly elected legislators happens to be yours, you can’t afford to waste any time. Among these new members of the House and Senate could be several champions for DME and homecare. This is an impressionable period for new members as they get settled in and complete their orientation. While it will take a little time and some resources to reach them, the result could bewell worth the effort.

Here are some ways to engage freshmen legislators and infl uence theirperception of the DME industry:

Regardless of your vote, they have won the seat so send them a note of congratulations. They are one of 535 people who will make the laws affecting our future and that fact in itself is quite an achievement. You can break the ice and open a dialogue by sending them a personal and informal note acknowledging their new role and introducing yourself and your business. Take advantage of the post-election high and their new position to become an insider tothis new face in Washington.

Since we have pressing issues such as the competitive bidding and audits hanging over us, communicate your immediate concerns by phone. This is a period of hyper-activity for freshmen legislators and many will still be in the confusion of the transition process. With limited resources, staff still being appointed, and the excitement of the position, the only reliable way to reach newly elected legislators during the first few months is by phone. These initial months can be chaotic for freshmen and often letters, e-mails, and fax communicationsget lost in the shuffle.

Make friends with staff. As soon as a Chief of Staff, Legislative Director, Health LA, and Scheduler has been put in place, get their names and begin to introduce yourself to them, by phone or email. Although many of a new legislator’s staff hires will be experienced old hands in Washington, they are still new to this new lawmaker and will be guiding his or her political positions.Getting to know them will be a critical part of your advocacy efforts.

Since the real power of your efforts will be at home, make friends with the district office and find out how they can support your relationship. The local staff has the ability to direct information and documents to the member quickly and this will aid your cause. Get to know the people in the districtoffice, since they will be your path to the lawmaker.

You must learn all you can about them. Nothing will impress these new legislators more than you doing your homework about their positions, goals, and ambitions. Showing them you are interested in their issues in your first meetings will encourage your relationship. Not only learn about their connections in Washington, but also discover any connection they may have to the industry and other local politicians you may know personally. Visit the nationaljournal.com site for information on your new lawmaker.

You are the expert in your field so offer them your help. New legislators and their staff are swamped with tasks. They need assistance in understanding the issues. Offer them your insight and expertise. Keep them informed by sendingtalking points, white papers and studies supporting the issues.

Become an Asset and Build from There

You must be patient. Building a relationship with a member of Congress is like running a marathon, not a 100-meter sprint. Starting early means you get ahead of the gatekeeper system before it is in place. Being a valuable friend willaid in winning their confidence.

We must not take our ability to infl uence public policy lightly. It is certain that we cannot affect change unless we are willing to get involved. Use these techniques to help build a relationship that will allow you to become your ownlobbyist and be an effective advocate for your business and the industry.

Also, if your Representative or Senator won reelection, don’t take that for granted either. You can always use these same techniques with them toimprove your relationship.

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Wayne Stanfield, a former air traffic controller, has been in the DME industry for 20 years. He is currently president and CEO of the National Association of Independent Medical Equipment Suppliers (NAIMES), as well as the executive director of the Home Care Alliance of Virginia Inc. (HCAV), a provider network with 63 locations in 11 states. He can be reached at (434) 572-9457 or via e-mail at yourfuture@dmehelp.org.

The Key to Patient Engagement