May 1, 2013
Volume 77, Number 5
State Beat: The What, Why and How of Grassroots Advocacy
Nina Singh-Radcliff, M.D.
Erin Berry Philp, M.A., J.D.
Jason Hansen, M.S., J.D.
What Is “Grassroots Advocacy?”
“Grassroots” means normal, everyday citizens, like us, engaging and educating their lawmakers about issues that matter. It’s a ground-up process that does not require us to be elected officials or professional lobbyists. Spending a few minutes exercising our First Amendment right to convey our views can reap huge rewards for our patients and profession.
Why Should I Be Involved in Advocacy?
If we do not take the lead advocating on our own behalf, instead of having a seat at the table, we’ll be on the menu!
ASA has more than 50,000 members. As anesthesiologists, we have both the ability and obligation to educate lawmakers on advocacy issues specific to our specialty. These issues include patient safety, responsibilities of our allied team members and ways to improve access to care, to name just a few.
As anesthesiologists, we already have the experience necessary to be the best advocates for our patients and specialty. If we do not advocate on the issues of importance to anesthesiologists, other groups will happily serve as our voice, but at the cost of putting forward their own (potentially conflicting) information.
How Can I Contact My Lawmaker?
In Writing: First, understand that lawmakers consider a wide range of policy matters, with only so much time to devote to each. Additionally, the vast majority of them are not physicians or familiar with our specialty’s vocabulary. Finding ways to make your message succinct and uncomplicated will better help your lawmakers understand your concerns. Keep correspondences short, ideally a page or two in length. If you are trying to communicate with a U.S. Representative or Senator, make a phone call instead of writing a physical letter (unless you can deliver the letter in person to a district office or the Congressperson’s D.C. office). Mail to the House and Senate offices is still irradiated and delayed by several weeks after the anthrax attacks on those office buildings in 2001.
In Person: To meet in person with your state or federal lawmakers, call their office to request a meeting. Federal- and state-level lawmakers have local office locations as well, so you might be able to meet your elected official near where you live.Be specific about the issue you want to discuss. Doing so will help ensure the right staff participate in the meeting. Please be aware, constituents often meet with the staff and not the lawmaker. Do not be discouraged or offended; meeting with the health aide can be better than meeting with the lawmaker. The aide is the lawmaker’s topical expert and is the person the lawmaker will consult with when it is time to vote on a health-related bill. This is a person you want to know.
Lawmakers have heavy workloads with busy schedules. They rely heavily upon staff expertise and opinion. Forming a good professional relationship with health staff and offering to be a health resource for the office will make it more likely your views will be favorably heard. Remember to arrive promptly to meetings with lawmakers and/or their staff and understand the meeting may be short (10-15 minutes) to accommodate their numerous daily meetings with constituents and others. At the completion of the meeting, make sure to distribute your contact information and limit your leave-behinds to brief, easily understood materials. Send a follow-up thank you note, which can include a concise restatement of the issues discussed during your meeting. And always offer yourself as a continuing resource to the lawmaker and his or her staff!
What Are Other Ways to Get Involved?
Be informed, stay informed, and inform others. Join the
ASA Grassroots Network at grassroots.asahq.org, or contact Pat Daly, ASA Grassroots Program Administrator, at
firstname.lastname@example.org. As a member of the network, you have access to legislative alerts and updates and key bills. There are also a number of user-friendly tools on how to take action and identify your state and national lawmakers. The Grassroots Network is also social media-friendly. It takes just a few minutes to “Like” the ASA Grassroots Network on Facebook and follow
@ASAGrassrootsNetwork on Twitter.
Consider inviting your lawmaker to speak at your component society’s annual meeting or to visit your hospital or office to see how policies are affecting their constituents (you and your patients) firsthand. Getting involved with your state component society and state medical society will provide even more avenues to connect with your lawmakers. For example, the New Jersey State Society of Anesthesiologists has a successful Ambassador Program that matches anesthesiologists with New Jersey Assembly and Senate Health Committee members, giving those lawmakers an expert in our field to answer any questions about our specialty.
ASA Legislative Conference
Finally, don’t miss the premier grassroots advocacy conference for anesthesiologists held each spring in Washington, D.C. The ASA Legislative Conference focuses on state and federal legislative, regulatory and political issues impacting ASA and anesthesiology. The purpose of the conference is to prepare ASA members to engage effectively in the legislative, regulatory and political processes on behalf of the specialty. Learn more at www.asahq.org/For-Members/Advocacy/Legislative-Conference.aspx.
Nina Singh-Radcliff, M.D. is Attending Physician, Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, Atlanticare Regional Medical Center, Pomona,
Erin Berry Philp, M.A., J.D. is ASA’s State Affairs Associate.
Jason Hansen, M.S., J.D. is
ASA’s Director of State Affairs.
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