WASHINGTONEric S. Berger, vice president of planning and public
policy, US Oncology, Inc., Houston, has a word of advice for cancer
care providers seeking to influence legislators: Speak from the heart.
The best way to communicate with lawmakers and their staff is to make
a connection with them. Therefore, he said, sometimes the most
effective way to get a point across about cancer needs is to make it
possible for them to hear from patients, their families, and their
providers the people most directly affected by the issue being addressed.
Convey to them that the issue has a face, he said at the
Association of Community Cancer Centers annual meeting.
Use personal experience, said Betsy D. Mitchell, a
governmental consultant with the ACCC in Springfield, Illinois, who
joined Mr. Berger on a panel about how to navigate the halls of
policy-making. The session was organized, she said, because,
increasingly, health care policy rather than medical evidence is
influ-encing care. Thus, providers are being urged to participate
more in the policy-making process.
Ms. Mitchell, whose experience focuses on state-level activity, had a
number of suggestions for the audience. Finding who knows
who was at the top. Sometimes physicians live next to
lawmakers, she said. Sometimes they live with their
lawmaker! It may be their spouse!
Knowing the issue was also prominent on the list, but coupled with
that was being able to talk about it, a point also emphasized by Mr.
Berger, who was formerly health counsel on the House Commerce
Committee. After you get past the niceties, Mr. Berger
said, the congressmanwho has a very limited amount of
timewill turn to you and say, So, what are you here for
today? Suddenly, the room gets very silent.
People in this situation will often turn to their lobbyist, but
congressmen meeting with constituents dont want to hear from
professional lobbyiststhey meet with them day in and day out,
Ms. Mitchell said. They want to hear from you, she emphasized.
She also suggested that when writing to a congressperson, keep
what you know to one page.
In addition to knowing the issues at hand, it is also important to
educate yourself about the legislative process, she said. Timing
is very important, she added.
Constituents with no experience in lobbying can still function as
effectively as lobbyists, she said, since lobbying means
attempting to influence someone elses actions or
opinions. Good lobbying, she said, is being able to make
your point of view
interesting and relevant. Her advice for lobbyists:
Never lie or mislead. Although you want your legislators to
remember you, you want it to be for the right reason. If you lie,
theyll definitely remember you, she said.
Look for friends in unusual places. Never cut anyone off from
contact, she said. Also, dont waste time and attention on
your opponents. Shore up your support instead, she said.
Never forget to give thanks and give credit to others.
When youre crossed politically, dont get mad, get even.
Remember, Ms. Mitchell said, the power at the ballot box is yours.
Ms. Mitchell also suggested that busy state-level legislative staff
will sometimes try to avoid tackling an issue by saying, I
understand theyre working on this on the federal level.
Dont let that stop you, she urged. Say, We need it
in this state, too.