On April 24–25, 2012, 14 members of Atlanta’s Resurgens Orthopaedics group, traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with selected members of Congress. The leadership of Resurgens Orthopaedics is extensively involved in political advocacy through the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), the Orthopaedic Political Action Committee (PAC), the Georgia Orthopaedic Society, and its own independent efforts. Resurgens, a 97-member (84 orthopaedic surgeons and 13 physiatrists) orthopaedic practice with 21 locations in metropolitan Atlanta, has organized fundraisers for Georgia Congressmen in addition to select Congressional leaders from other states.
The impetus for this trip came from attending the 2011 National Orthopaedic Leadership Conference (NOLC) as well as other AAOS-sponsored advocacy meetings. Serendipitously, we scheduled the trip for the day prior to the 2012 NOLC! Even though our trip was scheduled at a very inopportune time for the AAOS office of government relations (OGR), Graham Newson, associate director, and the other staff members did an outstanding job supporting our efforts.
Meetings and messages
Our first event was a dinner meeting with a former Resurgens colleague—Rep. Tom Price (R–GA). We also invited Sen. Ron Wyden (D–OR) to join us. These congressional leaders were selected so that we could compare and contrast their opinions on healthcare delivery. The discussion was very enlightening to those who had never previously discussed issues with members of Congress.
At breakfast the next day, we met with several representatives from our state. Then we met with select senators and representatives, including key leaders from both parties. We coordinated with the OGR to ensure that our message complemented the one that would be delivered the next day during the NOLC Hill visits. We asked everyone we met to take the following steps:
- Repeal the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula.
- Remove governmental rules and regulations that hinder the delivery of health care.
- Repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB).
In all, our 2-day trip to Washington, D.C., was very productive and enthusiasm is building for a return trip next year.
You can do it
Other large orthopaedic groups like Resurgens may also want to consider making a visit to Washington to meet with members of Congress. If your group is interested in organizing a private trip, you may want to consider the following suggestions:
- Plan well in advance. You have to ensure that Congress will be in session when you visit and that the members will be able to listen to your concerns. Planning a trip during the lame-duck session (after the elections but before the next Congress is sworn in) would probably be less productive than at another time of the year.
- Focus on meeting with Congressional members from your state. These leaders are more likely to meet with constituents than with outsiders. If you already have a relationship with your representatives—meeting with them while they are at home in district—they are far more likely to meet with you in Washington, D.C.
- Allow plenty of time between meetings. Senate office buildings are on the opposite side of the Capitol from House office buildings—and there are two different Senate and three different House office buildings. Don’t organize a trip that is so frantically busy that everyone feels rushed and leaves unsatisfied.
- Coordinate your message with the AAOS OGR. These staff members are in daily contact with members of Congress. They are aware of current issues on Capitol Hill, and they can advise you accordingly.
- Educate your group about how to interact with Congressional leaders. The AAOS has some very good online resources to help in this training. Sincere but misguided statements made to Congressional members or staff personnel can badly damage the efforts of the AAOS and other organizations. If you want to be politically active, educate yourself on how to effectively carry a message to Capitol Hill. Leave your personal agenda at home and focus the needs and issues that your patients face, not your own individual concerns.
- Remember that someone has to stay at home to take care of the patients while the group is traveling. Ensure that those who can’t come feel connected and valued, and be sure to invite them on the next trip.
- Remember that it is illegal to give political donations to members of Congress while meeting with them in governmental offices. Political fundraising is an important aspect of political advocacy, but this has no place on Capitol Hill. Instead, hold a fundraiser for that member in district—either before your visit or shortly thereafter.
- Some members in your group may be very unfamiliar with our nation’s capital and may want to build in some time for sightseeing. Poll your group before you plan your trip.
The Resurgens trip significantly motivated members of our practice to become more involved in political advocacy to further the needs of our patients. With proper planning and reasonable expectations, you can organize a trip that will make a lasting impact on your colleagues as well.
Douglas W. Lundy, MD, is a member of the AAOS Council on Advocacy who also serves as the liaison to the Communications Cabinet and the AAOS Now editorial board. He can be reached at email@example.com