Think that Grassroots Advocacy isn’t important? Think Again!

If you’ve been tuned in to what’s been going on at HAN at all recently, you’ve probably heard a good bit about the HELP Hospice Act. This is a bill that with your help, and the leadership of Senators Ron Wyden (OR) and Pat Roberts (KS), will be of great service to the hospice community. I’m not going to go too into detail on the bill here (for all of the up-to-date info you can go to the HELP Hospice Page on our website), but I’d like to tell a story about how we got the bill to where it is now, and how we plan on advancing it further.

As you may know, the Hospice Action Network employs a team of experienced lobbyists. While it’s easy to roll your eyes at that beltway term, our lobbyists are very important to the hospice community’s agenda. To quote from Jonathan Keyserling’s ‘View From the Hill’ article last year: ‘There are always competing interests, time constraints and procedural issues that impact the attention span of Members of Congress and their staff. As veterans of the process, our lobbyists are able to assess the many competing issues facing key policy makers. Armed with this knowledge, they are then able to create the proper focus and context to advocate for Hospice on the Hill.’

Our lobbying team is able to translate the hospice message (in this case, the regulatory and policy nuances of the HELP Hospice Act) into terms that Members of Congress and their offices can understand. In more simple terms, you might say that the lobbyists are responsible for the ‘what’ of an issue, as in ‘What is the HELP Hospice Act?’

What the lobbyists can’t do with an Elected Official is supply the all-important ‘why’, as in ‘Why should I care about the HELP Hospice Act?’

And as you may have guessed, dear reader, that’s where you are so important to the process. Our grassroots base is integral to the process because you provide the answer to the ‘why’. As Brad Fitch mentions in his book Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials, “Constituents drive nearly all decision-making in congressional offices” (p4). It’s easy to become disenchanted and believe that special interests control the debate and agenda, but I’m here to tell you that it’s just not true. To illustrate that point, I’d like to tell you a little more about how we were able to have Senator Ron Wyden agree to sponsor the HELP Hospice Act.

Senator Wyden of Oregon has been a longtime supporter of end of life issues, and we were very happy when he signed on as the sponsor of the HELP Hospice Act. That was due in large part to the help of our grassroots advocate Deborah Whiting-Jacques, of the Oregon Hospice Association. Deborah could not have been better at supplying the ‘why’ that was so important to the Senator’s endorsement. During a congressional recess, Deborah arranged for the Senator’s health aide to be briefed by local providers on hospice issues in Oregon, and arranged for several site visits to inpatient facilities to view exactly what hospice provides, and to reveal in a personal way what makes hospice so unique as a model of care worthy of the Senator’s time and energy. She spent several days personally escorting the aide around Oregon, and developed a personal connection. You can bet that Deborah will be a trusted resource to the Senator’s aide on any EOL issues going forward. When the Hospice Action Network contacts a congressional office with a request, the office will almost always circle back with a trusted in-district resource to make sure that their constituent base supports the issue. In Oregon, that will be Deborah.

In the week leading up to Hill Day, the Hospice Action Network staff and lobbyists helped to answer technical and legislative questions about the bill, and were in constant communication with Deborah about the process. By combining our efforts, we’re a huge step closer to advancing legislation that will give hospices some immediate regulatory relief, as well as help to protect the Medicare Hospice Benefit for the future.

If you think this is a unique occurrence, you’re wrong. A similar story played out with the new staff of our Senate Republican lead, Senator Pat Roberts, and a handful of hospice leaders in Kansas. Members of Congress listen most of all to their constituents, and a push from a trusted source in their state or district has been proven to be a huge factor in their decision making process. The Hospice Action Network is still actively searching for a bipartisan set of House sponsors for the HELP Hospice Act. We need grassroots advocates like you to help them understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ that is the HELP Hospice Act. Deborah Whiting-Jacques showed just how pivotal the ‘Grassroots’ part of the equation can be. As always, you won’t be alone in the process. We here at HAN worked hand-in-hand with Deborah in the weeks and days leading up to the bill, and we continue to do so. We provide talking points, help arrange phone conversations, and follow up correspondence. It might seem daunting, but we’re here to help, and we want what you want- a better future for hospice.

The HELP Hospice Act has a future- with an ongoing effort from the hospice community we can advance the legislation in both chambers and have it signed into law. It takes emails, in-district visits, and calls, but most importantly, it takes dedicated grassroots advocates who are willing to go the extra mile to push their elected officials. Grassroots advocates are at the heart of our strategy- are you willing to go the extra mile to help us help hospice?