Last Updated: Jun 3, 2021
By David Thompson, Senior Director of Legislative Affairs, PAMED
You think it doesn’t matter, right?
You claim that reaching out to your elected officials isn’t worth your time.
One vote won’t make a difference.
There is no downside to professional advocacy. The process of political advocacy can be challenging and, at times, even downright frustrating. However, if you take the time to engage in the process, learn how the system works, and accept its limitations and potential outcomes, the process can be productive and rewarding.
It’s widely understood and accepted that physicians are busy professionals whose workdays often begin before dawn and sometimes end long after sunset. What isn’t widely known within the halls of the State Capitol is the intense, grueling, and complicated path a prospective medical student must endure to make it successfully across the finish line. More importantly, few policymakers understand the non-clinical complexities and countless bureaucratic hurdles that impede a physician’s ability to care for their patients appropriately.
Here’s where physician advocacy can play a key role in helping to guide the legislators to enact effective public policy. While PAMED and its lobbyists are a constant fixture in legislative offices in Harrisburg, working the “local angle” back home pays bigger dividends.
So, what does it take to make a difference? It’s a simple three-step process:
- First, know your elected officials. Every physician, and for that matter, every citizen, should be able to identify their state senator and representative, along with their congressman and U.S. senators. Furthermore, are you registered to vote, and do you vote regularly? If you’re not registered, do it, and, if you are, please vote!
- Second, take time to get to know your legislators. Make an appointment to meet them. You don’t have to discuss a legislative issue on your first visit. The important thing is to develop a relationship. If you’re in private practice, consider inviting them to visit your office to learn firsthand what happens behind the scenes, especially as it relates to insurance hassles like prior authorization.
- Lastly, you should become involved in the political process. That is to say, engage in a political campaign. Offer to host a small “meet and greet” in your home with some of your friends and colleagues. Offer to volunteer on the next campaign. While this last step may ultimately require a specific commitment of time on your part, it is invaluable in demonstrating your level of commitment to lawmakers.
"PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN LEGISLATORS AND THEIR PHYSICIAN CONSTITUENTS ARE THE HOLY GRAIL OF LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY."
Given the sheer volume of bills introduced in each legislative session, lawmakers are unable to digest the details of every bill. While PAMED legislative staff work day in and day out to inform and educate policymakers on these proposals, when a local physician reaches out to their representative or senator, the result is far more effective. Personal relationships between legislators and their physician constituents are the holy grail of legislative advocacy.
As a group, physicians have a unique ability to help shape legislative policy and sway public opinion. When appropriate, and at your discretion, discuss with your patients the legislation that may affect your ability to provide the level of care that you believe is best for them. More importantly, encourage them to join you in voicing concern to their state representative or senator. Patients trust and respect your opinion. Give them the benefit of your knowledge when pending legislation could affect how you care for them. You may be surprised how much they’ll appreciate it.
So, be part of the solution to better government. Get involved. Meet your elected officials and develop a trusting relationship that will benefit both of you. With the right touch, physicians can become a positive influence in helping to shape health care policy … and unlike organic chemistry, there’s no chance you’ll contaminate your product and ruin your synthesis!