President's Message: Blessings From Capital Hill

Author: Angela Morris, Au.D.

Your ADA leadership team and our Prime Policy lobbying team have been persistently pounding the pavement to raise awareness about the Audiology Patient Choice Act (APCA) among members of Congress. As you are likely aware, Representative Tom Rice introduced the bill, H.R. 2276, in the House of Representatives. We are working diligently to finalize Senate Sponsors and to add cosponsors to the existing bill.

In a recent visit, our small but dynamic team attended 14 meetings with key Congressional offices in a single day! Each meeting was considered a success—and we are confident that there will be major movement for the legislation in the coming weeks.

If you have not had the opportunity to visit with legislative offices on the Hill, you may wonder how it all works. I thought I would share what we do, and if this is something that interests you, maybe you would want to join us on a future visit or “fly-in”.

The experts at Prime Policy Group help us identify the most strategic meetings to undertake, coordinate the meetings, and provide us with a minute-by-minute schedule. We usually meet as a group in the morning prior to our first meetings, for a briefing to discuss any background information on relevant issues to raise with particular offices, messaging strategies, and other tactical plans for the day. The briefing may also identify which members of Congress are on committees of jurisdiction for the legislation, what distractions are consuming the most bandwidth (health reform, tax reform, sexual misconduct etc.), and even where we should meet up for lunch and debriefing later in the day!

In most cases, we don’t meet with the legislators themselves, but rather, their health policy staff. These Congressional staffers serve as the eyes, ears, and (from a policy standpoint), extensions of the legislators themselves. While they may seem very young, these staffers carry significant weight with their bosses, and can make or break our success in adding members of Congress to the list of cosponsors for APCA. They should be treated with the same respect, deference, and interest as a member of Congress.

When we go out on the Hill, no member of the ADA advocacy team goes it alone! We generally assign a minimum of two people to each team, along with a Prime Policy representative. Our lobbyists have longstanding relationships with most of the offices, and are able to make formal introductions and kick off the discussion. From there, as an audiologist, I describe the need and importance of the Audiology Patient Choice Act for my patients and my practice. Staff and Members of Congress are genuinely interested in what we have to say, and I feel that my expertise as an audiologist is well received by the offices that I visit. Most of the information that I relay has to do with my actual experiences with Medicare patients, how unnecessarily complicated the current system is, and how they can help my patients have better access to care by supporting the Audiology Patient Choice Act.

In addition to the advocacy that we do during the in-person meetings, we always leave behind a folder of state-specific information that addresses common questions about the legislation. If you are worried about being asked a question that you don’t know the answer to—don’t be concerned! It happens all the time, and it is actually a blessing! That’s right—it gives us another opportunity to follow up after the meeting with additional information and a reminder for the staffer to ask our members of Congress to support the bill. The important thing is to be forthcoming about not knowing, and keeping your word to follow up with the office.

We never leave an office without asking for support and offering more information. Getting them to take action is no small feat! We have to do a great job in convincing the staffer that our legislation is worthy enough for them to take it before their boss, remembering that they have about 100 other groups coming in trying to get them to do the same thing.

Understanding the multiple projects and meetings that these legislators and staff are involved with every day, has given me a much better appreciation for why legislation takes such a long time to move. However, with our persistence and because we are advocating for legislation that makes sense and is good for our patients, the Medicare system, and our profession, I feel our hard work will begin to bear fruit very soon.

I want to thank each of you who have joined us for visits on the hill, and I know it is an experience you will not soon forget, but I also want to thank each of you who have called offices, offered office visits for legislators, wrote letters to your Representatives and Senators, and given to our advocacy fund, as those things are just as important. This is a team effort, and we need your help with all of these things now more than ever. If you are not sure what you can do, please email me (amorrisaud@gmail.com) and I will be glad to look at your area and see what would be the best contact method for your legislators. With everyone’s help, and blessings from above, WE WILL SUCCEED!