WASHINGTON, D.C. – Much is made of the need for advocacy within the realm of HME, but what exactly should advocates emphasize? Maybe more importantly, what should they avoid?
As general counsel/health senior policy advisor to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Dana Richter (pictured) hears a lot of health-related concerns. These issues may not exactly be competing, but it’s also true that there are only so many hours in the day, and Richter’s analysis is crucial when the senator is choosing her priorities. Medtrade Monday sat down with Richter to get an idea about the right approaches (and the wrong ones) to take when stating a case for HME—or any other industry for that matter.
Greg Thompson, editor of Medtrade Monday: What types of messages resonate with you?
Dana Richter, general counsel/health senior policy advisor to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.): The best thing for us is really applying how any message is impacting our constituents. We have a great HME advocate in West Virginia named Regina Gillispie who has done an excellent job of letting us know about the number of small businesses that are closing and the impact on patients who might not be getting things like oxygen or other durable medical equipment that they desperately need. Make the message personal. I always tell people; You don’t need to know every statistic and bill number. It’s really more important to make it [the message] personal.
Thompson: How important is the messenger in this scenario?
Richter: I always tell folks that you’re building a relationship. I’ve been with the senator for going on six years. You want to start building a relationship with the staff member—a lot of times when you’re not advocating. For example, it’s always good to send information—and also just to check in occasionally even when you’re not asking for something.
Thompson: How much should HME providers emphasize the harm to their business as opposed to problems with seniors getting access to HME?
Richter: I think they are equally important, and balancing them is important. You want to get the whole picture. Senator Capito knows the importance of small businesses. Small businesses are serving a need that’s not going to necessarily be met by large companies. I would not make your message fully about the impact on your business. I would definitely include the impact on patients, because again you want to create a full picture.
Thompson: What type of message causes you to roll your eyes?
Richter: When people compare. For example, a lot of times people compare diseases. All diseases are horrible, but when you start to say, ‘We have more people than lung cancer, and it is more deadly than breast cancer.’ That’s the kind of thing that can put staffers off. I think it’s really important to focus on your message and the implications for you and not say, ‘This industry is getting better treatment.’ You never know what else the senator or member of Congress is working on. Focus on your issue and don’t talk badly about other Industries.
Don’t talk about other offices either. That can really sink you, because we all talk, especially within the Congressional Delegation. If you might not have had the best meeting with one of my colleagues in the House—I would certainly not take out your frustration during a meeting with another staffer. Again, we all talk and we all work together on a lot of issues. You can sink yourself, and sink really good causes, by putting a staffer off by inadvertently offending someone.
Thompson: How partisan are issues related to HME in your experience?
Richter: In health care in general, diseases and conditions that require DME could care less whether you’re a republican, democrat, or independent. I personally don’t see these issues as at all partisan. I think that goes back to why you make it personal, and why you let people know that people need access to this equipment in order to live. Personally, I think that you can talk about these issues in a totally nonpartisan way, no matter who the president is or who’s in charge of the Senate or the House. It doesn’t really matter. Granted one party may have an easier time getting to those currently in control, but you want to build as much support as possible. Make the best case, build the relationship, and really let your members of Congress know why this is so important.
Thompson: Can one person really make a difference?
Richter: Your voice is incredibly important, because if you’re not speaking to your member of Congress and their staff, then there are other people who are. If you want your issue to see the light of day, and if you want changes to be made—you need to let your member of Congress know. One person can make a big difference.
I’ve been on Capitol Hill now going on 13 years. If someone doesn’t come up in our state and tell me about what’s going on, I’m working on a hundred other issues. You need to make your member of Congress, and their staff, care about these issues—because you’re not the only one raising a hand. It goes back to the old saying; The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Some people may say, ‘Oh, I’m only going to talk to the staff. I’m not going to talk to the member of Congress, so is it even worth it if I’m just going to talk to staff?’ I’m biased having been a staffer for a long time, but I can tell you that if my boss doesn’t hear it from me, then she’s not going to hear it. It’s very important that you talk to staff and build up those relationships, because we have the direct line to the member of Congress. We also deal with these issues every single day. I understand these issues and I can translate them to Sen. Capito [pictured, right] in a way that makes sense.