The key to gaining quick access and help with specific federal problems is to develop a personal relationship with you elected legislator. How do you do it? Here are some suggestions that have worked for us.
Tips for Developing a Relationship:
- Cultivate a close relationship with your legislator and his/her staff. Invite them to visit your program at least annually, but also any time a change has occurred that you want them to be aware of. Use the opportunity for media attention. Ask to work with their press person to help give them some favorable media coverage. Use the meeting to educate your legislator and staff about your programs and what they do for the district and state, both in service to your patients (their constituents) and in production of needed physicians for the area. Show them how your federal money works. Give them local, concrete examples of how your Title VII funding helped.
- When you get word from the Division of Medicine that you will be getting a Title VII grant, call the legislator and see if they would like to publicize it with a press release or a conference. Show them you recognize how important they are to your program.
- When changes occur in Medicare–either through Congressional action (legislation) or through regulatory authority–let your legislator know how the changes will affect you. You should do this both when the changes are positive and negative.
- Keep the staff in mind. Get to know the staff people involved in health issues. Call them to discuss issues. For example, ask them if they are aware of how a specific proposal would affect a program such as yours.
- Use whatever personal organizational ties you have to help develop the relationship. If you belong to the Rotary or Kiwanis clubs, or American Association of University Women, think about inviting the legislator to speak to the group. Does your church sponsor a soup kitchen or homeless shelter where you could invite the legislator to help out and get media attention? Remember that this is an election year for all representatives and for one-third of the Senate.
- Don’t forget political action. Once you are on their radar screen, you will be asked for help with their campaigns. Can you host a fundraiser? Can you sign on as a sponsor or patron of events already planned?
Tips for Setting Up a Local Meeting:
- Look in the blue pages of the phone book under United States Government. It will have listings for the local district offices and their phone numbers.
- Call the local office and ask to speak to the scheduler. Remember to get that person's name.
- Tell the scheduler you would like to invite the Congressman/Senator to visit your program the next time they are in the district/state. The federal health statutes that affect your program are regulated by your legislator.
- The scheduler will probably tell you that the member is extremely busy, and will ask if you would mind meeting with a staffer instead. The answer is no, unless there is absolutely no chance at all of meeting with the member personally, but you would be happy to have the staffer there too.
- Let the scheduler know the issue that you wish to talk about, whether it is Medicare GME regulations, Title VII funding, AHCPR research funding, or other close to home issues.
- The scheduler will not have an answer for you right away. Follow-up your phone conversation immediately with a letter formally requesting the meeting. You may want to fax this letter to the scheduler.
- You will need to be persistent. Don't wait several weeks for them to call you back. They get numerous requests for meetings, and usually spend some of each recess on vacation. Try to walk the fine line between aggressively pursuing a meeting and being a gadfly.
- Once the meeting has been set up, send a thank you note to the scheduler for all his/her hard work.
- Don't be surprised if the meeting/visit gets rescheduled a few times.
Once you've established a relationship, you become a key player in family medication education advocacy. You can become a trusted advisor who has direct access to a legislator who can help achieve your goals.