Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How To: Make Your Voice Heard at a Congressional Town Hall Meeting

If it’s August (and last time I checked, it is), then there is a probably a congressional town hall meeting happening near you. New Voices posted yesterday with an updated list of congressional members holding town halls. With health care reform in the national spotlight, town hall meetings provide you an opportunity to ask your elected officials important questions about the role of research in health.

But how do you even ask a question at a town hall? And what should you ask?

Here are some tips and resources to help you make your voice heard.
  • It is important to have a brief statement that conveys your personal story. The keyword here is brief, meaning 1-2 sentences. Consider sharing some of your background that supports your question. For example, if you want to ask a question about how health care reform will affect your work as a biochemist, you could say, “I’m a biochemist researching the causes of cancer. I work every day to better understand this disease. . . .” This provides your elected official with some context about what’s prompting you to ask you question.
  • Asking a question also gives you the opportunity to briefly share your views with your elected official. Again, the keyword here is brief, 1-2 sentences. If you think it is important to increase funding for research, don’t be afraid to say so (in 1-2 sentences). For example, "_____ is important to me because _____." After you’ve provided your opinion, ask a direct question.
  • Try to sit near the front of the room to make yourself visible. Be patient and polite when trying to garner the attention of person who controls the microphone. The meeting organizers may request that you write your questions down instead.
  • Bring materials to leave behind in case there isn’t time for your question. With increased interest in congressional town halls, it may not be possible for everyone to ask a question. Bring printed materials with you that summarize your questions and asks your elected officials to respond. Here is one set of printed materials that you can leave behind to ask your elected officials to respond to the Your Congress-Your Health initiative.
So now that you have a better idea of how to make your voice heard, what should you ask? This is really up to you. Here are some examples of questions from leading patient advocacy organizations.
Parkinson's Action Network: "There are currently no treatments to slow or stop the progression of Parkinson’s disease. How are you working to help provide better treatments and a cure for people living with Parkinson’s disease?"

Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America: "I understand there are a number of substance abuse treatment provisions included in health care reform, and am very pleased about this. But given the fact that drug and alcohol abuse are one of the biggest drivers of health care costs, how is Congress working to ensure that drug and alcohol prevention, and not just treatment are fully addressed in health care reform?"

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: "Will you support the highest possible increase of funds going to NIH . . . ?"
You can also use the Your Congress-Your Health questionnaire as a guideline. Here are some examples of questions from the Your Congress-Your Health questionnaire.
"When it comes to rising health care costs, would you say research to improve health is part of the problem or part of the solution?"
"Considering all aspects of health reform, how much of a priority is it to accelerate our nation's investment in research to improve health?"
Finally, don’t forget that Porter’s Principles provides communication and advocacy tips.

Putting this all together, here are some examples of statements and questions to ask elected officials:
“Hi, my name is Dr. Smith, and I’m from Anytown. I'm a cancer researcher investigating the causes of cancer. I've made some exciting discoveries. Increased funding for research through the NIH is very important to me because allows me and my colleagues to expand our work against cancer. How can health care reform incorporate what my colleagues and I are discovering about preventing and treating cancer? And, how will you support our work in the future? Thank you."

"Hi, my name is Matt, and I’m a student at the U of M. One of my parents was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when I was in high school. Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but there is a lot of promising research. Increased research into better treatments and cures as a part of health care reform is very important to me. How can health care reform help people living with Parkinson’s disease, and what do you plan to do to bring us closer to a cure? Thanks."
What are some of the statements and questions you’d like to share at upcoming town halls?

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