Published 9/1/2017
Catherine Boudreaux, MPP

Advocacy in Action

AAOS OGR ensures orthopaedists' voices are heard on health policy issues
The 2016 presidential election brought about a renewed focus on constituent engagement with our country's legislative processes. Although citizen engagement in a democracy is essential, orthopaedic surgeons may view it as another challenge to their limited time.

The recent passage of legislation to address federal liability reforms illustrates how the AAOS office of government relations (OGR) can help guide and assist your interactions with members of Congress and their staff.

AAOS was directly engaged in the recent passage of legislation on medical liability reforms.

On Feb. 24, 2017, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) introduced legislation that, if enacted, would provide several sensible reforms to medical liability at the federal level.

One month later, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) introduced a similar bill. AAOS supported and monitored both versions as they moved through the legislative process. The bills were combined when they reached the floor of the House of Representatives, and the resulting bill was passed. It is now going through a similar process of committee discussion and passage before reaching the Senate floor.

Working through a broad coalition, AAOS sent several letters supporting introduction of these bills. The Orthopaedic Political Action Committee (PAC) was able to engage directly with congressmen and their staff to educate them on the liability system. OGR staff also helped and encouraged AAOS members to engage directly in the advocacy process. In April, nearly 400 orthopaedic surgeons advocated on Capitol Hill for orthopaedic-related legislation, including Rep. Hudson's version of the medical liability bill.

Meanwhile, orthopaedic surgeons throughout the country sent emails in support of the bill to their representatives, using a template and prepopulated email address provided by AAOS. Two months later, when the bill was being debated on the House floor, AAOS again provided surgeons with a template for sending emails to their representatives.

How effective are these messages? According to the Congressional Management Foundation, congressional staff cite direct constituent interactions as having more influence on lawmakers' decisions than any other advocacy strategy, provided that the member has not already arrived at a firm decision on the issue at hand. While lobbyists help educate congressmen and their staff on the complexities of a particular issue, constituents bring the citizen perspective.

An even more powerful tool lies in personal relationships orthopaedic surgeons cultivate with members of congress and their staff. The AAOS Congressional Ambassadors program encourages its participants to maintain regular contact with their representatives. Ambassadors may also consider inviting their representatives to visit their practices or hosting or attending their in-district fundraisers. For more information on how to build this type of relationship, email Jordan Vivian, manager, government relations in the AAOS OGR, at vivian@aaos.org.

Rules of engagement
Although OGR staff work diligently to represent the best interests of orthopaedic surgeons, members of Congress still want to hear from surgeons directly. The following are some "Dos and Don'ts" to keep in mind when engaging with the legislative process:

  • DO use the AAOS prepopulated email as a template when emailing members of Congress. Members do pay attention to the volume of email they receive from their constituents on a particular issue, and they rely on these messages to help them understand the nuances of seemingly niche issues.
  • DO be polite to everyone in all manners of engagement. DON'T cross the line between showing passion about an issue and insulting the other person.
  • DO donate to the PAC. The Orthopaedic PAC is robust and provides AAOS exclusive access to members of Congress. But DON'T stop there. Use AAOS grassroots tools to engage with members of Congress, become an AAOS Congressional Ambassador, and visit the AAOS advocacy website to keep up to date on important legislative issues.
  • DON'T be afraid to establish a relationship with members of Congress or their staff. Most of them have the utmost respect for orthopaedic surgeons and many are proud to count orthopaedic surgeons among their closest friends and advisors.
  • DO educate and engage other practice staff on orthopaedic-related health policy issues. Many of the issues in which the AAOS engages in Washington, D.C., and in state capitols often affect the entire practice.
  • DO speak to patients about legislative issues that affect them. The AAOS engages in a variety of advocacy, from medical liability reform to payment reforms to research funding for orthopaedic injuries. It is important that patients understand how decisions made in Washington may affect their treatment.
  • DON'T be frustrated by a seemingly lack of progress. The system was designed to be slow and deliberate, particularly at the federal level. Even though bills that the AAOS supports may not become law the year they are introduced, any progress made is still positive and any forward momentum counts.
  • No matter how it's accomplished, engagement is important. As orthopaedic surgeons, you are well-respected members of your community, and many look to you to help explain and interpret how potential legislation and regulation may adversely impact your practice and patients.

For more information on the PAC, visit  aaos.org/PAC. To support the PAC, text aaos to 41444.

Catherine Boudreaux, MPP, is senior manager of government relations in the AAOS OGR.