Grassroots lobbying of members of Congress can include different activities including visits to the Member's Capitol Hill or district offices, conducting facility visits or attending town hall meetings.
The overall goal of grassroots lobbying is to develop a working relationship with the legislator and his or her staff. They need to understand the importance of O&P services to the patient. This is the most effective way to influence the legislative process. As an O&P professional, you need to develop a rapport with your member of Congress that includes two-way communication.
Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents -- and they will listen. Each Member must consider a vast number of issues. These issues are divided among legislative assistants (LA) who are responsible for following legislative activity and constituent support for each of their assigned issues. An LA may be responsible for 20 or more broad issues and is seldom an expert in all of them. They rely on a multitude of resources to keep themselves knowledgeable on these issues, including AOPA and individuals professionals.
O&P professionals must be proactive and offer themselves as a resource to Members and their staff. As a professional, you are in an excellent position to provide them with information about your profession and how your services affect the community. Once you have developed a working relationship with the Member and his or her staff, they will look to you more often and ask for your input as these issues come forward. By establishing yourself as a reliable source of information, you are improving your access to the Member. Keep in mind that as O&P issues come before Congress, it is much easier to ask a friend for something than it is to ask a stranger.
Find Your Representative
O&P professionals' strength lies in their ability to effectively communicate information. This is important in educating clients and patients as well as influencing policy makers. Whether you write, call or visit your legislator, some basic guidelines are applicable to all methods of contact. They are:
- Know Your Legislator. Learn as much a possible about the legislator and where they stand on issues. How have they voted in the past? What is their political philosophy? Legislators who support your position can help you develop your strategy; those who "don't know" need lots of your attention; and those who are opposed can sometimes be persuaded to change their minds. Never assume what your legislator will think -- find out.
- Identify Yourself. Identify yourself as a constituent by providing your address and congressional district. Secondly, identify yourself as an O&P professional. In addition, identify yourself as a member of AOPA, the Academy or other appropriate national, state or local organization.
- Be Prepared. Know your issue and the impact of the legislation you support and the impact it will have on your patients, profession, community and Medicare. Keep abreast of issues through AOPA and other resources. Read AOPA In Advance SmartBrief, published twice weekly.
- Be Specific. Be specific and state the action you want the legislator to take: vote in a certain manner, introduce legislation, co-sponsor a bill or make a floor statement. If the member expresses support for your position, hold him or her to that commitment. Whenever possible, refer to a specific piece of legislation or public law by its number.
- Be Concise. Be concise in your written or verbal communications. Legislators and their staff have limited time to devote to any one issue. A one- or two-page fact sheet can summarize your points and is more likely to be read and filed for future reference than a 10-page document. In face-to-face meetings, highlight key issues and leave behind a fact sheet as a reminder of essential points you want the legislator to have at hand. AOPA has fact sheets for you to use and be sure to call the government relations staff if you have any questions.
- Be Constructive. Be pleasant, polite and use a "soft-sell" approach even if a legislator does not agree to support you in a specific instance. If there are problems with a particular program or bill, admit it and identify alternative solutions. Do not threaten or make negative comments. You are looking to continue the relationship and will probably need the legislator's support on other issues in the future. In the meantime, feel confident that you have shared your information in positive manner.
- Follow-up. Follow legislation throughout the legislative process and be prepared to contact your legislator several times on one issue. You can contact the legislator prior to a committee vote, before a floor vote or when there's a lot of press activity on the issue. Keep the pressure on him or her by your continued contact on the issue.
- Continued Rapport. It is important to continue developing rapport with your legislator and his or her staff. In addition to contacting them about specific legislation or issues, it is appropriate to congratulate them on honors received or elections won and thank them for a positive vote on your issue or on actions taken that are important to the community. Legislators appreciate, but seldom receive, thank you letters for actions taken. Be among those who show appreciation for their support.
Be sure to share positive information about your profession. Sharing a news article or research study on O&P with your legislator is an ideal way to promote your profession and highlight the impact it has made on the legislator's constituents. This is an easy way to further develop rapport with the legislator. You are also giving them information they can use to justify their support of AOPA positions.
Persistence and patience are two words to keep in mind when dealing with legislation. Keep in mind that it can take a very long time for Congress or a state legislature to pass a bill. It may take several years to get a single piece of legislation passed. Persistence and patience are two key factors in lobbying.