The Little Differences that make a Member of Congress a Hospice Champion

Here at the Hospice Action Network, I love seeing Hospice Advocates go above and beyond. I especially love it when they showcase ways to turn a Members of Congress into a hospice champion- with very little effort!

Recently, Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care had the opportunity to meet with Congressman Chris Gibson of New York’s 19th District. They spent time going over some of the recent issues facing hospice, and were able to thank the Congressman for his support of the HELP Hospice Act and a recent letter from Congress to CMS regarding hospice and Part D. It was a great meeting, and it fit very well into HAN’s guidelines of touching base about 4 times a year. However, it was what Catskill did after the meeting that was the icing on the cake…

CEO Lola Rathbone, in conjunction with Kelly McGraw, Catskill’s Community Relations Coordinator, drafted a quick 200 word op-ed for the Daily Star Newspaper in Oneonta, NY. In the op-ed, Lola took the time to publicly thank the Congressman for his support on hospice issues:

“In your opinion: Gibson supports hospice’s goals

–The Daily Star, Wed Feb 26, 2014, 06:00 AM EST

We are fortunate to have Chris Gibson representing us in Congress. After having the privilege of spending time with him discussing the recent changes in health care that affect our local hospice, I believe he truly shares our concern over the impact on our ability to serve his Delaware, Otsego and Schoharie county constituents.

Hospice care equates to only 2 percent of overall Medicare spending. Research proves hospice care is a cost-effective health care delivery model that translates into savings for the Medicare system. Yet, multiple Medicare reimbursement reductions, a series of costly regulatory changes, and looming hospice payment reform has made hospice care delivery increasingly challenging.

Chris Gibson is willing to support us in our message to Congress that “enough is enough” by signing a congressional letter to CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner. He also co-sponsors the HELP Hospice Act, which enjoys robust bipartisan support.

On behalf of the patients and families served by Catskill Area Hospice and Palliative Care, as well as our staff, thank you, Rep. Gibson. We are grateful to have you on our “team” in our fight against excessive regulatory requirements. We are also grateful to have your support in protecting hospice by preventing any further cuts to the Medicare Hospice Benefit. Thank you for helping us to preserve access to high-quality end-of-life care now and for the future.

Lola Rathbone”

So why is this above and beyond? Writing an op-ed like this is a very visible way to thank a Member of Congress for their commitment to hospice issues. As Congressional Management Foundation’s Brad Fitch put it in his Citizen’s Handbook “…if you mention the name of a Member of Congress in a letter to the editor it will be read by the person you most want to influence” (emphasis added).

With low overall approval ratings, Members of Congress love being publicly thanked by their constituents. It’s guaranteed that this op-ed cemented the Congressman’s dedication to hospice issues. How do I know that? Because before we here at HAN knew about the op-ed, Congressman Gibson’s staff sent it on to us with a thank-you note! They saw it first and were quite pleased to be publicly thanked for their efforts on behalf of their constituents.

I’d also note that you don’t need to get your op-ed placed in the New York Times or the Washington Post to be effective, as Catskill’s article proved. Almost all Members of Congress subscribe to their local papers as a way to keep their finger on the pulse of their districts. While the NYT or the Post is nice for national visibility, I guarantee that a Member of Congress would rather be thanked in their local newspaper where constituents were more likely to see it.

And here’s one more pro tip for our advocacy superstars- send a final copy of your op-ed to your contacts in a congressional office. This way, if the editorial board decides not to run it due to space limitations or other considerations, the congressional office still knows that you took the time to draft and place the op-ed locally. They’ll know that you’re working to make the Congressman or Senator look good for their support of the hospice community.

Many hospices are trying to do more with less these days. It’s helpful to show how Hospice Advocacy doesn’t have to be time-consuming or hard to implement. A 200 word op-ed takes ½ hour of time at the most, but can clearly have an outsized impact on a Member of Congress. If you have questions or even need help drafting a letter like this, let us know! We’re here to help and it’s our full time job to assist you with advocacy efforts like this.

As always, thanks for your Hospice Advocacy. Will your program be the next one to turn a Member of Congress into a hospice champion?

Tony Kudner

Program Manager, Grassroots Advocacy