I had never thought about meeting with a member of Congress on behalf of the ACC, but when I moved to Florida, Allen Seals, MD, FACC, was the advocacy chair, and he quickly recruited me to the cause. I was under the mistaken impression that congressional members were very much aware of the issues, and would not want to talk with me about them. But as it turns out, if health care is not a priority of theirs, they know very little and are interested in dialoguing with a representative of an important group such as the ACC.
Since meeting with congressional leaders in Washington, DC is difficult, the Florida Chapter decided to try to meet them in-district, and we found that for a constituent to get a meeting with the representative themselves, and not a staffer, was much easier. I recall meeting with newly elected Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) in his office in the St. Petersburg area. He was anxious to discuss the impact of the Affordable Care Act and what it meant to physicians and patients locally. He sat with our group for almost an hour, and offered insight into where he thought the health care debate would go. The idea is to meet again at ACC’s Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, Sept.11 – 13. Legislators are much more willing to meet with us themselves if they have a personal rapport with the group. We met Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) in her Tampa office, and the following September met with her again during Legislative Conference. She picked up the discussion right where we left off and was particularly interested in our opinions on certain issues important to Florida such as the difficulty obtaining residency spots. This is an important issue to her, and to be included in the discussion was important for the ACC.
I had a similar experience meeting with Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL). Because he sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee (as does Rep. Castor), he was able to tell us which key members of the committee we needed to talk to on the national level. The following year he called us and said he hadn’t met with “the cardiologists” and wanted to know where we stood on some issues. That’s a rarity, but it shows you what a personal connection can mean for the ACC. Our former Florida Chapter president, Alberto Montalvo, MD, FACC, has had a personal connection with his representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL) for years, and we have continued that relationship and dialogue.
In realty, it’s like everything else in life, it’s about relationships and what they mean to us as individuals. We do the same thing with the Florida state representatives, but that is a fairly large group to meet, so we concentrate on those directly involved in health care policy and legislation. The ACC is a highly respected body – we have always been respectful of our elected representatives and done our utmost to engage with them on a personal level. It allows us to enjoy the meetings, yet get our points across clearly and in an apolitical way. We try to meet all the congressional representatives twice a year, but especially those on the Energy and Commerce as well as the Ways and Means Committees, where health care legislation is crafted.
It’s a fascinating experience and if you have not had the opportunity to join your “A” (for advocacy) team, I encourage you to get involved!