Thursday, July 23, 2009

Genetics Day on the Hill

Chronicles of a Science Policy Intern
I spent my first full day on the Hill last week. As a participant in Genetics Day on the Hill, I had the unique opportunity to visit the offices of four Representatives and two Senators with a team of fellow Genetics Day participants. In this post, I'll share my experience and the lessons I learned from our visits with legislative staff.

The morning began with a breakfast briefing during which we met our groups and reviewed the schedule for the day. We also went over the packets that Genetic Alliance provided to each team. These contained information about the members of Congress our team was scheduled to visit and talking points to consider. There were very helpful in enabling our group to coordinate its message and how we wanted to deliver it. (Recommendation: know what you want to say if you visit your MoC.)

The purpose of each of our visits was to present five overarching principles that several organizations had agreed were essential to health reform including: access, economics, delivery systems, patient empowerment, and the research to care continuum. (This is different from the usual technique of presenting specific requests, or "asks.")

We met with different responses in each office. While some of the LAs (legislative assistants, or policy specialists) were very receptive to the ideas, others were only interested in hearing specific requests or comments on bills currently being considered, which meant that we had to adjust our message. All of the staffers seemed to appreciate clarity and brevity. (Recommendation: know how you want to present your message.)

At the end of the day, all of the Genetics Day participants reconvened to debrief and listen to Rep. Patrick Kennedy discuss health and Congress. Rep. Kennedy emphasized the importance of activism and the need to “get involved to get things done.” Because members of Congress are often pulled in so many directions, he said that constituents need to make sure that they are keeping their members informed about what they feel is most important. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. (Be persistent!)

Genetics Day was, all in all, a very positive and informative experience. I learned about how to communicate with my senators and representative and also about the importance of being informed, engaged, persistent, and clear. I will keep Rep. Kennedy’s message in mind and strongly encourage you to do the same. Whether you are encouraging your members of Congress to fill out the Your Congress-Your Health survey or writing a letter about a specific issue, your voice matters.

No comments:

Post a Comment