How to Make an Impact at the Grassroots Level

LAS VEGAS — In her panel discussion at the 2011
AOPA National Assembly, Catherine Graf, JD, director of
regulatory affairs, American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association, discussed
some of the ways individuals interested in becoming actively involved in
government relations can make a genuine impact on their state

Graf told the audience that before meeting or talking with a legislator,
individuals should research and identify the legislator’s positions on
past issues. If you can prove that you invested your time researching what the
legislator cares about, he or she is more likely to invest their time in what
you care about. Getting a face to face meeting with a state legislator can be
difficult. Be persistent and remain friendly with the legislator’s staff.

“Cultivate relationships with the legislator’s staff,”
Graf said. “The odds are you will be dealing with the staff more than the
actual legislator. The staff will relay the important aspects of your position
even if you are not talking directly to them. They become your ally in
communicating key issues.”

Graf also stressed the importance of clearly identifying the bill and
the problems it is addressing. Define the action you want the legislator to
take on the bill and why. Be concise and honest in communications should you
get a face to face meeting.

“You only have a very limited time if you get to meet with a
legislator,” Graf said. “Personalize your appeal. What is the impact
on the patient? Showcase the type of story that will move people to get
involved. Be assertive enough that the wheels in their heads start turning. But
keep the exchange friendly. It may take a long time for the bill to pass. You
want to maintain the relationship with the staff because you may have to go
back and talk with them as the process lingers on.”

One of the frustrating aspects of working in government relations and
regulatory affairs is that you can wake up one morning, open the newspaper and
read about the passage of major legislation that affects your business. Maybe
you disagreed with the passage of the bill, but the legislative process is all
but over. How can individuals stay ahead of the game and know what is coming at
the state level before it is too late?

Sue Stout, panelist and government relations and communications director
of the Amputee Coalition, told the audience that most states have a
Medicaid Advisory Committee. Policy suggestions would often
be brought to the advisory committee before a potential bill was vetted by an

“Getting someone on that advisory committee is worth your
time,” Stout told the audience at the National Assembly. “If you have
an advocate, member of an organization or consumer who you think you can get
appointed on that committee, do so. That will help you get information quickly.
Another person to get to know is the state Medicaid director. I would suggest
that they become your new best friend. And when they become your new best
friend, you can talk about the ideas that they may have. You may find out a
little bit earlier what they are planning.”

The moderator of the panel discussion, Anita Liberman-Lampear, MA,
vice-president, AOPA, is the Michigan representative to the Medical Care
Advisory Council to Medicaid. She agreed with Stout that becoming a member on
her state’s advisory committee allowed her to establish relationships with
directors from a variety of health care professions. Having those contacts at
her disposal averted potential problems for O&P in her state.

“There are about 30 of us and we represent every aspect of health
care,” Liberman-Lampear told the audience. “Between that and our
lobbyist, we have stopped a lot of critical bills against O&P that most of
us would never have known about if we had not participated on the
council.” — by Anthony Calabro

For more information:

  • Fise T, Graf C. Lobbying at the state level. Presented at the 2011
    American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association National Assembly. Sept. 19-22.
    Las Vegas.

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