Advocacy Corner

Carter L. Alleman, J.D.

Communicating with Congress Electronically

In addition to in-person meetings, you can communicate with your legislator via letter, fax, e-mail, telephone call or a combination of these. Legislators want to hear from their constituents and are sensitive to their opinions. Thoughtful, sincere, and precise comments are most helpful when debating or discussing a bill or proposed rule. Here are some best practices when contacting your Member of Congress and Senators.

Written Correspondence:
In order to make your written communication effective there are few simple rules to follow:
• Format the letter properly with the correct salutation
• Honorable (all Representatives and Senators)
• Representative (all rank and file Representatives)
• Senator (all rank and file Senators)
• Leader (Majority and Minority leaders in the House and Senate)
• Chairman/Chairwoman (Chairperson for each committee)

Always be aware of the tone of your letter
A polite, informative tone is the best to use. Avoid language that might seem threatening.

Include information about yourself
It is useful to include information about your role as an osteopathic surgeon and where you work. Remember you are trying to create a connection with the legislator.

Focus on a few key points
Address only one issue in the letter, use common terms, and avoid overly technical language. Explain the potential impact on your patients, on quality and accessibility to care, and on your practice. A one-page letter is key.

Note a bill number/title and description of what it will do
Generally, the common abbreviations for legislative bills are House Bill (H.B.), Senate Bill (S.B.) and bills are referenced as H.B. 134, or S.B. 568.

When closing, mention the bill number/title again and encourage support or opposition
Recap your main points and encourage the specific action you are requesting.

Offer to be a resource and provide your contact information
Physicians are generally viewed positively and are seen as experts on medical/clinical issues. Legislators or their staff may very well take you up on your offer and call. If they do, be sure to take the call or ask to schedule a time to talk.

Telephone Communications
When calling your legislator, expect to talk to the receptionist or staff person responsible for the issue you want to discuss, such as the Health Legislation Aide. If you cannot reach the staff person responsible for your issue, you should leave a message with the receptionist. 

Similar to writing a letter, it is important that you keep your message a few simple points. Reference the bill number, offer your comments, and ask what position the legislator has taken on the bill. Avoid being argumentative or trying to “win” the discussion. Before ending the call, offer to follow up with a letter recapping your discussion.

Give the staff person your telephone number so they can easily contact you if they need further information. If the staff person has been helpful, courteous, or otherwise accommodating, note in the follow-up letter. Positive strokes are valuable in an environment where often the negative is emphasized.