For 15 years, I have walked the halls of Congress. I did not take a class or even receive any helpful tips before embarking on this endeavor, but over time, I acquired valuable experience on the protocol and inner workings of Congress.
Looking back, it certainly would have been helpful if there had been a guidebook, like What to Expect When Meeting with a Congressional Member or Staffer or Capitol Hill for Dummies. Time is of the essence for all audiologists to start their advocacy, so rather than writing a book, I will share my experiences with you in this article.
We elect our senators and representatives and, in turn, they should consider our points of view when they vote in Congress. They are very powerful people who are responsible for changing the law and, as their constituents, we can help influence how they vote to support or oppose a law. In addition to their role on the Hill, members meet often in their local offices, allowing them to connect with their constituents and to listen to their views or learn about their issues.
Congressional members hail from all walks of life and, prior to their prestigious role in Congress, they had “real jobs” like you and me—they were auctioneers, lawyers, schoolteachers, real estate agents, and even practicing physicians.
My experience on the Hill afforded me the opportunity to get to know them. I speak highly of their kindness and congeniality. They are willing to listen and help, but will need facts and a good educator—and that’s YOU!
How to Get Started
Meet with your members of Congress or their staffers. Make an appointment at their local office or take a trip to DC. For most members of Congress, their days are packed with meetings, hearings, and voting. Don’t be offended if you are scheduled to meet with their staffer instead of the legislator directly. Staffers have significant influence in the modern Congress and serve as the eyes and ears of the member (Gibson, 2010). Also, most members of Congress have multiple staff members and, many times, each staffer is assigned a different area of focus. For example, most offices have one staffer that handles only health-care issues.
How to “Make Your Case”
When talking with staffers and making your pitch, try to speak in layman’s terms and remember that they must turn around and share the issue or view with their supervisor or the legislator. If the issue is too complicated or hard to explain, they may not endorse the issue. Keep it as simple as possible and share top-line talking points for them to share with the legislator.
Although members of Congress were at one time just like us, they are now in a different role. They are public figures, in the press, or on TV. They are not bashful, so keep their egos in mind. Let having them support our [audiology] issue also be about them (Gibson, 2010). Let them see how the outcome of supporting our issue would positively impact their constituents and would be good for a press release, especially if they are up for re-election. If they supported other audiology bills in the past, thank them for their support.
Serve as a Resource/Issue Expert
It is also helpful to offer to serve as a resource on hearing health-care issues for the legislator or staffer. Share details with them about how audiologists serve the community and about some of the issues that you deal with on a day-to-day basis with your patients.
Let them know that you stand ready to offer any input or feedback on any other issues having to do with audiology or hearing health care. This lets them know that you perceive the relationship as a two-way street. This ensures that, if another issue arises that concerns hearing health care, they are more likely to reach out to gain the perspective of a trusted constituent.
How Does This Help Our Profession?
As audiologists, we want the best for our patients, as well as for our audiology profession. To improve and/or change existing legislation, we need the help of Congress to amend a proposed law or create a bill to change the law. The common goal for changing legislation is to help improve our role as hearing health-care providers for better patient care and for our audiology profession.
Educating Congress raises awareness of our profession and the good we do to help improve the quality of life for millions. Meeting with your elected officials (representatives and/or senators) or their staff members can be a very rewarding and exhilarating experience, knowing that you are exercising your civic duty. Get involved today and help improve the quality of life for millions, while improving our audiology profession.
The Audiology Access and Services Act of 2019: H.R. 4056/S.2446
The Academy came together with the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) to draft this legislation and continues to work with them to garner additional support. This legislation would provide audiologists with “practitioner” status in Medicare, allow for direct beneficiary access to audiology services, and allow audiologists to provide and be reimbursed for diagnostic and treatment services in Medicare.
Although the bill enjoys significant bipartisan support, more is needed! Please reach out today (call or e-mail) to your representatives and senators to let them know why you support this bill and what is needed for patients and practitioners alike. Access the Academy Legislative Action Center (www.audiology.org/get-involved/advocacy/legislative-action-center) to easily make your views known!
Gibson J. (2010) Persuading Congress: A practical guide to parlaying an understanding of congressional folkways and dynamics into successful advocacy on Capitol Hill; how to spend less and get more from Congress; candid advice for executives. Alexandria, VA: TheCapitol.Net.