In politics, money talks but relationships are key

In politics, money talks but relationships are key

By Carolyn Rogers

Monetary contributions will always play a key role in the political process, but don’t underestimate the importance of building a personal relationship with your representatives, says former U.S. Representative Jim Nussle (R-IA), an eight-term U.S. congressman and a 2006 candidate for governor of Iowa.Speaking at the Orthopaedic Political Action Committee’s (PAC) annual luncheon on Wednesday, Nussle provided an insider’s perspective on the important role of grassroots advocacy in the legislative process. He pointed out that the political process doesn’t have to be frustrating, distasteful and dirty—it can also be rewarding and successful.

Be a knowledge source

When you approach your senator or representative about any issue, what you’re really doing is establishing a relationship, Nussle said.

“Writing a check is a great first step, but that check needs to be followed up with personal contact with your congressman and senator,” he said.

The best way to build this relationship is by serving as a source of knowledge and key facts, he said. “To be effective, that relationship has to be built on trust and good information.”

By establishing relationships with your representatives and their staff—both in Washington, D.C. and back home—you’ll have a decision-maker you can turn to when you need to take

If you make a visit to Capitol Hill, visit the member in your district as well.

Although making a connection with your senator or representative is crucial, never underestimate the importance of getting to know his or her staff.

Personal stories sell your message

“Health care is personal,” Nussle said. “Like it or not, emotion is an important part of the advocacy process.”

Legislators hear from countless constituents. Including an emotional element makes your message more memorable, and gives it greater impact.

“Unlike insurers and pharmaceutical companies, physicians have the ability to tell personal stories that have an emotional impact,” Nussle said. “Hearing a story about a little girl who was saved through medical research or a new technology gives it meaning.”


Nussle even provided a checklist for planning your visit to your senator or representative:

  • Determine what you need; know what you want that decision maker to do.
  • Focus on your message.
  • Make a simple, emotional connection and make your message more memorable by sharing the story of a real patient; tell a story that has an emotional impact.
  • Leave behind supporting materials for the legislative aide to review at a later time.
  • Use bullet points to emphasize your key messages.

Front-burner issues

Orthopaedic surgeons have three front-burner issues right now, Nussle said. Fixing the Sustainable Growth Rate payment formula is one. “The SGR has really put you in a box,” he said. “It makes it difficult for the reimbursement system to work and to have the necessary sustainability.”

It’s also an issue of access, he said. “If we want patients to have access to quality health care, then we need to have a sustainable reimbursement formula that will attract quality people to the profession.”

Unfortunately, to fix the formula would require putting every aspect of Medicare on the table for debate, which Congress doesn’t want to do. Change will probably not occur until there is some sort of collapse in the system, said Nussle. “Unfortunately, crisis management is often what gets Congress to act on many of these major entitlement programs.”

Fortunately, this doesn’t mean that the situation is hopeless or that the orthopaedic voice won’t matter, he stressed. “It’s exactly at that moment in time—when they are looking for the solutions—that’s exactly the time for your solution to be at the forefront.”

Securing funding for musculoskeletal research is another issue that is important to both orthopaedists and patients, he said.

“Medical liability is also a key issue” he added. “The most effective way to approach this issue is by emphasizing the threat to patients and to quality of care.”

Docs in primary states – speak up!

While discussing the 2008 presidential campaign, Nussle said orthopaedists in the early primary states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, New Jersey, Florida) need to seize the opportunity to make their voices heard.

“Don’t miss the opportunity to raise your hand at that meeting,” he said. “Be a citizen advocate and get your concern on the front burner. You have even more of a megaphone in that setting than you get by establishing a relationship with your senator or representative.”

PAC booth

Didn’t attending the luncheon? Then be sure to visit the PAC booth—located in the Sails Pavilion Upper Lobby, outside Room 6A of the convention center. Stop by for an update on the PAC’s various activities and learn how you can become more involved in creating legislative change that will benefit your practice.

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