While a legislator may be an expert on one or two issues, it is impossible for every lawmaker to master every issue likely to come before Congress. Elected officials rely on staff, outside expertise and constituent input to effectively represent the people of their district or state. An ongoing dialogue with your elected officials is the best way to ensure they understand how their decisions will impact their constituents back home. No one can better explain the complexities of health care delivery and the impact policy changes would have on your organization’s ability to continue delivering care than people like you on the front line. It is important to build a relationship with your legislators not just contact them when legislation is pending. Offer your expertise and counsel so they seek your input when an issue arises. This guide provides tips on how to cultivate a relationship with your legislators and their staff, as well as tips for communicating more effectively and navigating the complexities of Congress.

Tips for writing an effective email

  • Personalize the message. Remind the legislator or staff member of your most recent meeting or interaction. Personalization may mean your message is given closer attention.
  • Get to the point. Staffers deal with a large volume of email.
  • Confine yourself to one or two issues. Explain your position as clearly and concisely. If the issue is complicated, attach additional material and your telephone number so the staff can call you if additional information is needed.
  • Share your personal experience.
  • Use real-life examples to illustrate your points.

Example:

Dear Senator Merkley,

As the chief nursing officer and vice president of Legacy Children's Hospital in Portland, I urge you to protect health care coverage for the patients and community I serve. I believe any changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) should continue to provide health care coverage for the tens of millions of Americans who have benefited from the law.

The House-passed American Health Care Act would significantly cut Medicaid and eliminate essential protections for older and sicker patients, including those with pre-existing conditions such as cancer patients and the chronically ill. This would adversely affect the population I have served as a registered nurse - children. Currently, Medicaid covers more than 50% of the children we serve in our community. The cuts in Medicaid would take us back to a time when families waited to get treatment for their child's illness until they were gravely ill because they had no medical coverage.

It is the right of every American to receive high-quality health care and the responsibility of health care providers to ensure they receive it. As the Senate looks to repeal and replace the ACA, I urge you to protect health care coverage, particularly for our most vulnerable. Please do not support any legislation that would harm patients' ability to access the care they need.

Respectfully,

Jane Smith

Social media

Nearly all members of Congress have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Follow your senators and representative to see what issues are most important to them and share your views with them. Conversations about what is happening in your community are happening online. Social media provide an opportunity to participate in the dialogue to make sure your voice is heard.

Example:

We need a strong investment in nursing research and workforce development @SenatorDurbin. #NoMoreCuts to these vital programs.

Tips for calling your legislators

  • Call rather than email if the issue is urgent.
  • Get to the point - explain who you are and why you are calling.
  • Be Prepared. Have your facts straight and your talking points ready. You only have a few minutes to get your point across.
  • Be ready to answer questions. Do not expect a one-sided conversation. Anticipate questions your legislator or the staff member could ask you and have answers. If you are asked a question to which you do not know the answer, say you don’t know but offer to follow up when you have an answer.
  • Follow up with an email referencing your conversation. Reiterate your points and provide any additional information you’d promised.

An important note: Under federal tax law, 501(c)(3) organizations, like hospitals, can, within permissible limits, engage in lobbying about issues, including communicating with any legislator or legislative staff member, where the principal purpose is to influence legislation. However, there is an absolute prohibition on 501(c)(3) organizations participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office.

If you have questions about what is or is not permissible, please consult with your lawyers.