They Need You
Engage with candidates this campaign season.
By Alpha Lillstrom Cheng, JD, MA
August 8, 2016
It is August in an election year. While many things are uncertain in this incredible election cycle, one thing is for sure—candidates are pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, kissing babies, and eager to meet as many constituents as possible in order to earn as many votes as they can. This presents you with many opportunities to engage with those running for office while he or she is in campaign mode.
During campaign season, people running for office host events such as town hall meetings, rallies, and listening sessions. These public events are often well publicized and are the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself to the candidate and their staff. Often the local papers or news stations report on upcoming events, but the most efficient way to find out when and where an event will take place is to sign up for notices on his or her website. The process is similar for anyone running for office, but the mechanisms differ slightly because of differing levels of organization and resources a given candidate might have. Campaign websites vary widely in their sophistication and ease of use. The easiest way to find a campaign website is to search for the full name and the candidate and “campaign” in a search engine such as Google. For candidates challenging an incumbent legislator, it is often most efficient to call or stop by their campaign office and ask for the best way to get on their event mailing list. In the case of incumbent members of Congress running for reelection, there are two places to look—their campaign website and their official congressional website. Generally a sitting senator’s official website uses the following naming convention: www.senator’slastname.senate.gov; for an incumbent representative it will be www.representative’sname.house.gov. If your legislator has the same last name as another member of Congress, use their first name too; for example www.paulryan.house.gov is Speaker Paul Ryan’s official congressional website. Another way to make sure you learn of upcoming events in your area is to reach out to both the incumbent’s district and campaign offices and ask to be added to their event mailing list.
While it may seem impractical, the law requires that incumbents fund their campaign activity separately from their work as a legislator. Some events hosted by your legislator will be official business, and others will be campaign events. Government ethics rules require that the events be clearly designated as one or the other depending on whether taxpayer dollars or campaign funds are being used to produce the event. From the perspective of a constituent, it can be difficult to identify which is which, but don’t worry, the content of the policy discussion will be very similar in either situation.
You never know where you could run into the candidate—at the grocery store, waiting in line at a restaurant, or at a local park. In order to take full advantage of these chance meetings, it’s best to prepare ahead of time for a conversation by being familiar with the Private Practice Section (PPS) legislative priorities. In the case of incumbents, you will want to know which of the PPS priorities your member of Congress has cosponsored and/or voted in favor of. The candidates challenging them may not yet have taken a position on the issues, so this is the prime opportunity for you to educate them about private practice physical therapy and the federal issues that are important to the PPS membership.
Sign in to the PPS website and check out the Legislative and Advocacy tab; there you will find links to one-pagers of each of the most active legislative issues. You can use these to become more familiar with the issues as well as print them out and have them ready to hand to the candidate or their staff. Members are always impressed when their constituents are aware of what they have been doing in Congress and generally respond well to being thanked for their efforts. Please look for your legislator’s name in the sidebar to see if they have signed on in support of either the locum tenens bill (HR 556/S.313*) or the therapy cap repeal (HR 775/S.539*).
Town Hall Meetings, Listening Sessions, and Other Semi-Public Gatherings
Some town-hall meetings and listening sessions are focused on a specific topic or policy issue while others have a more geographic focus. While it would be relevant for you to attend a town hall meeting focused on health care spending or access, it is just as important that you participate and speak up at a listening session that is highlighting issues pertaining to small businesses or local economic development. It is important that you attend any events that are relevant to you as a private practice physical therapist so that you can be the face of physical therapy, small business, and local community leadership. You might be surprised to see how often a general discussion can end up focusing on health care.
In addition to hosting their own events, candidates work hard to appear at as many local organization events. Remember, they are in the business of meeting and talking to as many voters as they can and often focus on places where community and business leaders gather. Local entities such as the Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce will often invite candidates and your member of Congress to speak at one of their monthly meetings or social gatherings. These events often have two distinct parts—the formal presentation and an informal discussion that follows. If you or your colleagues are members of any of these types of organizations, please take the opportunity to be prepared and attend.
Immediately following the presentation there is often a rush of people eager to speak to the person running for office. It might seem a bit awkward to stand in line to speak to the candidate while they are shaking hands, taking business cards, and talking to your fellow attendees—but this is the drill. Senators, representatives, and the candidates challenging them for their seats, attend these events to share their message and legislative priorities with you; likewise, they expect to be approached by their constituents with requests and policy suggestions. Your peers will be approaching them with legislative “asks” and you should do the same. When your turn arrives, first introduce yourself, hand them your business card, tell them where your practice is located, and how many employees you have, then speak to them about the top legislative priorities we have identified for you—locum tenens and the therapy cap repeal.
When you engage with the candidate or your member of Congress and his or her staff, you are teaching them the value of your role in the community as a small business owner and employer as well as the impact of the care you provide. Attending these events can raise the profile of physical therapy and how the care you provide to his or her constituents improves their lives, enriches the local economy, and reduces federal spending.
A visit to your clinic can make a profound impression on a politician. Invite the candidate and his or her staff to come to your facility so that you can show them around. This will give them the opportunity to better understand what a private practice physical therapy clinic looks like, who you serve, and where you are located. To make this happen, reach out to the campaign or district office, ask to talk to the scheduler, and offer to host the candidate for a site visit at your clinic. Candidate schedules are often set weeks ahead of time, so be sure to be flexible and provide the scheduler with a few options for dates and times that work for you. The time available is sure to be tight, so anticipate the visit will last between thirty minutes and an hour. Once you have a date set, reach out to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) for planning support and look on the PPS website for summaries of the issues and one-pagers to give to your visitors. When visiting Washington, D.C., or attending a public event, PPS members often share stories of patient outcomes. These anecdotes have a lasting impact and help bring policy to life for the listeners. Some of you have patients who could make a strong and lasting impression on the candidate as well. If one of your clients is a perfect example of why the therapy cap is a flawed policy, consider inviting them to be at your clinic during the site visit. If you have a story to recount where you were unable to be in the clinic and had to reschedule patients—tell them how access to using a locum tenens would have prevented that interruption in care. When your senator, representative, or candidate hears the words “physical therapy” we want her or him to visualize you, your clinic, your patients, and your business.
When running for office, candidates are laser focused on informing the voters of their positions and increasing their “name recognition.” They spend a lot of money on television advertisements, direct mailings, online ads, social media coverage, and outreach phone calls. This is called “paid media.” Those running for election are also eager to be seen engaging with the community and responding to the needs of the voters. When you are in the planning mode for a site visit, make sure the candidate knows if you are willing to have the local television, radio, or newspaper come to your clinic to cover the visit. If the local news outlets report on the visit, the candidate is seen engaging with his or her constituents but doesn’t have to pay for that coverage. Many running for office will appreciate this free publicity featuring them listening to community members as well as being seen learning about and visiting a local small business. Additionally, some voters respond better to objective coverage of a candidate’s activity versus information that comes directly from the campaign itself. This publicity produced by a third party is called “earned media” and considered very valuable.
There is an added bonus here—this news coverage is also earned media coverage of your practice. Many of you spend time, effort, and resources trying to increase local awareness of your clinic and gaining new clients. You can parlay this earned media exposure into increased business. In addition to increased patient volume, some PPS members have shared that they have recruited staff as a result of the news coverage of their public engagement with legislators.
Once you get on the mailing list of someone running for office, it is likely that you will get invited to a fundraiser. This is a prime opportunity for you to attend a limited-access event for a small fee. In exchange for your contribution you will have a chance to meet the person running for office and talk to them about PPS’s policy priorities such as adding physical therapists to Medicare’s locum tenens program and repealing the therapy cap. You can also have your picture taken with the candidate that you can use for publicity or as a hook to deepen your rapport with them when they are in Washington.
As PPS members, health care professionals, and business people, you are perfectly positioned to speak about the relevance of the legislative priorities of the section, while also highlighting the importance of your role as a member of the small business community—whether you are an employer or an employee of your clinic. Candidates recognize that small businesses are the economic engine of America. Most members of Congress consider the burdens and benefits for small business when they evaluate the impact of legislative proposals. Giving them and their staff a face to associate with that evaluation can make a big difference. As we said at the beginning of this year, your mission should be to engage in a policy discussion about the value of private practice physical therapy with everyone running for office. Legislators need your vote this November in order to keep their jobs. Tell them what you need in order to make that happen. They need to earn your support. This is how democracy works.
Alpha Lillstrom is a registered federal lobbyist working with Connolly Strategies & Initiatives, which has been retained by PPS. An attorney by training, she provides guidance to companies, nonprofit organizations, and political campaigns. For six years, she served as Senior Policy Advisor and Counsel for Health, Judiciary, and Education issues for Senator Jon Tester (Montana), advising and contributing to the development of the Affordable Care Act, as well as working on issues of election law, privacy, government transparency, and accountability. Alpha has also directed Voter Protection efforts for Senators Bob Casey, Al Franken, Russ Feingold, and Mark Begich. She was Senator Franken’s Policy Director during his first campaign and was hand-picked to be the Recount Director for his eventual 312-vote win in 2009.
Talking Points for Contacting Congress
The Prevent Interruptions in Physical Therapy Act (HR 556/S.313)
Include physical therapists in the list of Medicare providers able to use locum tenens in order to ensure their patients uninterrupted access to physical therapy—regardless of location. Physical therapists in private practice help seniors restore mobility, strength, and function after an injury, medical procedure, or emergence of a chronic physical condition. Occasionally, a practitioner in a small practice must be away for short periods for medical, professional, or family reasons. In this case, physical therapists need to be able to bring in a licensed and qualified substitute therapist to continue the patient’s care without delay. Please support the technical fix to expand locum tenens to physical therapists and thereby ensure continued patient access to necessary care.
The Medicare Access to Rehabilitation Services Act (HR 775/S.539)
Support bipartisan legislation to permanently repeal and replace the $1,960 therapy cap imposed on physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology services. Doing so would ensure that those beneficiaries who are most in need of therapy are still able to receive the necessary services. The exemption to the therapy cap expires in December 2017, but we need to lay the groundwork now to repeal the discriminatory cap on care.