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Communicating with Congress: More Important Now Than Ever Before


Taken from the January/February issue of HBMA Billing, by Bill Finerfrock, Washington Representative, HBMA

"Why should I write? They never listen."
"My one voice can't make a difference; it's a waste of time."

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard those words or something similar over the past 30+ years that I have worked in or with the United States Congress and federal agencies. The fact of the matter is that those meetings, letters, and phone calls do make a difference.

The Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) is a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC that works with congressional offices to make them more efficient and responsive to constituent requests. According to CMF's most recent survey, over 95 percent of congressional offices identified personal communications from constituents as the single most important factor influencing the members' views on an issue. Personal visits are at the top of the list, but written letters or emails are not far behind.

The key to any communication is to make it personal. What does this issue mean to you, your family, and your business? Elected officials are more interested in local statistics and data than they are in national data. Universally, members of Congress say they want to know how legislation will affect the people who live and work in their congressional districts.
Frankly, their reasoning is pretty simple – the people who live in the congressional district are the people who will determine whether a member of Congress gets re-elected.

As noted earlier, if the member of Congress or his or her staff cannot meet with individual constituents in person in either Washington, DC or their district office, then email or postal mail is the next best thing. The acknowledgement of the value of traditional postal mail was somewhat of a surprise. Interestingly, it may just be that it is so rare that congressional offices receive traditional letters that, when one does come in, it is almost a novelty that makes its way around the office until it finally ends up on the member's desk – almost as if it were some type of antiquity from a time long past.

The CMF survey concluded that, in the end, the delivery method was not as important as the content. The message was what mattered: personal and unscripted messages carry significantly more weight. This is why it is so important to incorporate that local angle into any message to your elected officials. Again, the national data is great for them to have, but the local data is what will catch their eye. How will healthcare legislation affect jobs, the quality of care, and the availability of healthcare in your community? This is the type of information that only local people can provide and that is what makes it so compelling to a member of congress.

We've all seen the recent news reports about how social media (Twitter and Facebook) have been used by the "Occupy" and "Arab Spring" movements as a communication and rallying tool for their supporters and sympathizers. There is emerging evidence that members of Congress are beginning to use these newer media to both solicit and transmit information to their constituents and supporters.

This raises the question of how many HBMA members have "friended" their representative or senators on Facebook. Most congressmen and congresswomen and senators now have Twitter accounts. Are you signed up? Are you Facebook friends with your elected officials?

Managing the volume of information crisscrossing the nation every day has become a monumental challenge for all of us and there are no indications that things will get any easier, but by properly framing your message and using the appropriate tools to send it, you can dramatically increase the likelihood that you will be heard.

Finally, the 2012 HBMA Fall Conference will be held in suburban Washington, DC, just minutes from our nation's capitol. Plans are underway to set-aside time for attendees to go to Capitol Hill to visit with their representatives and senators or their staff. This is a great opportunity to make that face-to-face connection and bring your message to Congress in the most personal way possible – a visit.

And remember, if you can't attend the 2012 HBMA Fall Conference or take advantage of the Capitol Hill visit opportunity, you can always ask to meet with your representative or senator when they are back home during one of the many congressional recesses (a.k.a. district work periods).

Sitting on the sidelines and hoping someone else will carry your message to Congress is not an option. The stakes are too high and the consequences too great to leave it up to others.

Get active and stay active in the legislative process. It will make a difference!

Bill Finerfrock has worked in and with the U.S. Congress and Federal agencies for more than two decades. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of the National Association of Rural Health Clinics. At Capitol Associates, he specializes in health care financing, health system reform, health workforce and rural health issues.

Bill has been a speaker at numerous state and national health professional meetings and has been published extensively in newsletters and professional journals. He serves on the HBMA Government Relations Committee and is responsible for developing relationships with both governmental agencies and key legislative committees in order to monitor and advise HBMA on all legislation that comes before Congress that affects the billing industry. In addition to publishing a monthly government relations report to HBMA members, he monitors the regulatory agencies' implementation of regulations.

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