The American College of Physicians' continued success on Capitol Hill depends on the grassroots advocacy efforts of its more than 5,600 Key Contacts. It's a network of physicians and medical students that is an integral part of the College's multi-faceted advocacy efforts.
These ACP members volunteer to communicate with their members of Congress on issues of importance to their patients and profession. Contact with lawmakers can be as simple as a phone call, e-mail or letter, or as involved as arranging a meeting with a legislator.
Members of Congress want to know how legislation impacts constituents back home. Under guidance from the ACP Washington office, Key Contacts reach out to, educate and inform members of Congress about how legislation may impact internists and their patients back on Main Street.
As communications continue, many Key Contacts develop relationships that are highly valued by members of Congressand ACP. As the July 2008 Medicare vote on H.R. 6331, Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act, showed, spending a few minutes a month to share an internist's perspective on legislation can make a significant difference.
For example, Jacqueline W. Fincher, MD, FACP, has been a Key Contact for nearly 10 years. She didn't start with any close ties to lawmakers; she just started going to Leadership Day and contacting her legislators on the issues. "This year's work on H.R. 6331 was one of the most rewarding I have had as a Key Contact," she recently noted. "I had written two Op-Ed pieces in the Augusta Chronicle on the Medicare mess and called my representative's and senators' staff every week or two. I had the opportunity to talk with several of my lawmakers in person the week after the first vote. I explained how doctors would land on their feet by getting jobs elsewhere and limiting Medicare patients, but in my rural east Georgia town there was no one to take my place. So I impressed upon the need to vote for HR 6331. The bill later passed, due in part to their ultimate support. I sure felt like I had an impact on my senators, as did many doctors across the state. Sometimes you just gotta keep calling these guys 'til you just wear them down."
To assist Key Contacts, the College provides resources to easily and effectively communicate with their members of Congress and staffs. Robert M. McLean, MD, FACP, knows that it may take years of visits and contacts for a Key Contact to develop a relationship. In 2006, ACP's Connecticut chapter had the opportunity to introduce the Advanced Medical Home (now the Patient Centered Medical Home, PCMH) policy paper to his lawmakers. His Connecticut chapter had nurtured a relationship with a particular representative and happened to arrange a dinner meeting with her at just the right time to present the new policy paper. The representative was intrigued by the concept and included a PCMH discussion in her congressional hearings several weeks later. Subsequently, a demonstration provision on the medical home was included in the Medicare legislation that passed in December 2006. "Lucky for us," McLean noted, "she decided to listen to us at just the right time for a major ACP policy initiative to become part of a legislative bill since she had the will and the political position to make it happen."
By joining the program, Key Contacts:
- Receive Legislative Alerts. Alerts are sent periodically during the year from the ACP Washington office to all Key Contacts when an important issue approaches the decision-making stage on Capitol Hill. Each Alert includes background information, ACP's position, and instructions for contacting the selected member(s) of Congress.
- Are asked to respond to Legislative Alerts. Key Contacts can conveniently contact their senators and representative via ACP's Web-based Legislative Action Center (LAC), which enables users to personalize a sample letter, phone script or e-mail. It only takes a few minutes to contact a legislator via the LAC. The LAC is always active and available for members to use.
- Receive The Capitol Key, the advocacy newsletter for Key Contacts. This tri-annual newsletter informs Key Contacts about legislation, the activity of their fellow Key Contacts and other stories of interest to Key Contacts.
- Are invited to Leadership Day. Held each spring in Washington, DC, Leadership Day includes grassroots training, legislative briefings, and Capitol Hill visits. Also during Leadership Day, ACP recognizes Key Contacts who have made exceptional contributions to advance the College's public policy agenda with its Key Contact of the Year and Top Ten Key Contact Special Recognition awards.
Please consider enrolling now in ACP's Key Contact program and taking an important step in shaping health reform during the upcoming 111th Congress and beyond. ACP members are not required to have existing relationships with their members of Congress. The program is open to all membership categories.
Contact Jolynne Flores, supervisor, Grassroots Advocacy & PAC at email@example.com or (800) 338-2746 ext. 4532 with questions or comments.