Commentary

Want to take action on health care legislation? Here’s how


 

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a revised version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded would result in 14 million people losing coverage by 2018 and 23 million people losing coverage by 2026.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is opposed to this bill and has stated that it will leave Americans “worse off than they are today” by cutting Medicaid, eliminating Medicaid expansion, allowing states to opt out of covering essential benefits like maternity care, and weakening protections for people with preexisting conditions.

Dr. Constance J. Bohon

Dr. Constance J. Bohon

If you are concerned about the AHCA or other national or state legislation and want to take action, there are a variety of options. If you are an ACOG member, the staff can make advocacy relatively easy by providing background and talking points for your letters and phone calls. But even without that support, advocacy doesn’t need to be hard or time consuming.

State level

At the state level, the best person to contact is your ACOG section chairman, who can then direct you to your state’s legislative chairman. The legislative chairman will provide you with information on legislative actions that have been taken by the section. If you are interested in women’s health legislation, there may be an advocacy list to join that will provide legislative alerts. You may even choose to tweet about the alerts.

Often the state legislative chairman will send out information about an upcoming bill and ask for ACOG members to provide testimony. If there is a bill of particular interest, you can offer to testify either in person or submit written testimony. Often talking points are made available to help in the preparation of testimony.

Many states also have a Lobby Day, a day when members of the ob.gyn. community meet at the state house to advocate for or oppose legislation. This action can be easier than providing testimony because the time and date are predictable, while legislative hearings may not be.

Contacting Capitol Hill: Quick resources
If you are a member of the Ob-GynPAC, ACOG’s political action committee, you can request funding to support a candidate at the state or national level. Even small-dollar contributions from the PAC can go a long way on the state or local level, compared with the national level. It is important to get involved as early as possible – even during the primary election season – because this timing can often reap large rewards with fewer dollars, if a ward or district usually votes for one party. The PAC is separate from ACOG and requires membership for participation. However, the cost to join is relatively low. The PAC has its own governing board that determines which candidates will receive funding. If you would like to know more about the PAC, contact Sean Garrity at sgarrity@acog.org.

There is a great deal that can be done at the state level in support of women’s health. Perhaps your state does not have a maternal mortality committee, perhaps there needs to be funding for vaccinations, or perhaps you want to support legislation that continues to provide health care for women even if the AHCA becomes law.

National action

Legislative action at the national level mirrors that at the state level, but it is coordinated by the ACOG Government Affairs Department. Contact this department via acog.org. One option is to become an advocate and receive legislative alerts. This alert system informs ACOG members about congressional actions and gives you the option to directly contact your members of Congress through email with a specific message. Some physicians may prefer to send an email different than the one provided by ACOG, while others may tweet using hashtags like #obgynaction or #docs4coverage.

Alicia Ault/Frontline Medical News
If you would rather mail a letter to a lawmaker, it should be addressed to The Honorable (Full Name) or in the case of the chair of a committee or the Speaker of the House: Dear Mr. Chairman or Madame Chairwoman or Dear Mr. Speaker or Madame Speaker. When writing to a member of Congress, state the purpose of the correspondence in the first sentence. If there is a specific piece of legislation you are writing about, it should be referenced as H.R. (Bill number) for House legislation and S. (bill number) for Senate legislation. It may be appropriate to include personal information, but the letter or email should be brief and only address one topic.

You may prefer to contact your member of Congress by phone. The U.S. Capitol Switchboard number is 202-224-3121. Phone calls typically are taken by staff members. It is reasonable to ask for a staff member who handles the issue you wish to discuss. This person may be referred to as the L.A. (legislative assistant). Inform the staff member that you are a constituent and you would like to leave a brief message for the Senator or Representative. Your comments may be as brief as stating that you support or oppose a particular piece of legislation. As with the letter, you should state the reasons for your opinion and may include a short personal story. If you do not already know it, you should ask for the lawmaker’s position on the bill.

An ideal method of interacting with members of Congress is through town hall meetings. These meetings typically are posted on the member’s website and hearing from constituents in person can have a tremendous impact on legislators. Letters to the Editor, interviews with journalists, and advocating for candidates are also options to consider. In such cases, consider contacting the ACOG Government Affairs Department. They can provide helpful dos and don’ts before an interview is scheduled or an article is written.

Health care policymaking that is not based on scientific or medical evidence is dangerous for our patients. We, as their physicians, need to advocate on their behalf. Stay or get involved to help ensure that our patients can get the health care they need when they need it.

Dr. Bohon is an ob.gyn. in private practice in Washington, and an ACOG state legislative chair from the District of Columbia. She is a member of the Ob.Gyn. News Editorial Advisory Board. Dr. Bohon reported having no relevant financial disclosures.

Next Article: