The reality of operating a DME/complex rehab business in these times is that industry advocacy is part of the job. The more that lawmakers understand the valuable work you do on behalf of their constituents, the more able they are to make wellinformed decisions when the time comes.
One way to familiarize senators, representatives and other legislators with your mobility or complex rehab business is to invite them to visit your offices to observe your challenges and triumphs first-hand. With some planning and teamwork, you can coordinate an event that will give your staff and your clients the chance to shine — while showing exactly why providers are such a crucial part of healthcare’s continuum of care.
As the VP of communications and policy for the American Association for Homecare (AAHomecare), Michael Reinemer is well accustomed to bringing legislators and industry members together. He suggested the following guidelines for providers who want to invite legislators in for an office tour:
Check the Calendar
To determine the best timing for a visit, cross-reference your business calendar with the Congressional calendar (see sidebar) to determine when your would-be guest could be in your neighborhood.
“Try to schedule a visit during a period when the House or Senate is in recess,” Reinemer suggests. “For instance, Congress plans a week-long recess following Independence Day and a long August recess. And House members and many senators will be spending a lot of time this fall back in the state running for re-election, which provides a great opportunity to host a visit.”
Reinemer also suggests giving yourself, the legislator and the legislator’s staff plenty of time to coordinate the event. “To a certain extent, it depends on the individual office,” he says, “but it is worth making an inquiry with the scheduler as early as six weeks beforehand to get the ball rolling.”
On the Agenda
The next step is to start planning what activities you’d like the visit to include.
“You should explain how home medical equipment and services improve the lives of seniors and people with disabilities,” Reinemer says. “So a basic explanation of the types of conditions that call for HME and descriptions of your clients or patients would be very instructive for the member of Congress.”
Consider inviting a few current clients to take part in the visit, as well.
“By all means, include some patients to be present to speak with the lawmaker,” Reinemer says. “But it’s also important to describe all of the work you do for the recipient of the care in terms of patient assessments, preparation, delivery and compliance with all of the standards and paperwork required by Medicare, for instance.”
It’s also important to educate legislators on the challenges facing your business, and why its survival and success are crucial not just to you and your colleagues, but to the community as a whole.
“We always try to remind policymakers that our sector is a very small sliver of Medicare spending, but it’s enormously cost effective in terms of reducing time in hospitals, ERs and long-term care facilities,” Reinemer says. “But the continued, relentless reimbursement cuts and red tape that every provider has to live with is making it harder to stay in business and provide the type of care and service that (consumers) deserve and expect.”
Ready for Your Closeup?
Make the most of this visit by getting your local media — newspapers, TV, radio — involved.
“This is important and should be part of the planning,” Reinemer says. “Definitely mention to the Congressional office that you would like to invite the media. Sometimes, their office will work with you on getting the media to the visit. We have worked with many of our members to get the media to attend these types of site tours with great success. And please give AAHomecare a heads-up, as well as your state association, in case we can help.”
With the permission of the visiting legislator and consumers, as well as your own staff members who appear in the images, take photos of the meeting (high-resolution photos work best for newspapers and magazines) and write up the pertinent points to distribute to local and industry press. Not only will you be helping to spread the good word about home care, but you also help to set yourself up as a resource for editors to call on the next time they have questions about the industry.
Finally, follow up with notes to the legislator, his/her staff and anyone else who helped make the visit possible. It’s one more chance to thank the legislator for his/her time and to offer your help and support going forward.
- Determine when your member of Congress will most likely be on his/her home turf by consulting the 2010 House Calendar (via the office of Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) or the schedule on the United States Senate Web site.
- AAHomecare has issue papers that can help with talking points. Go to aahomecare.org/mobility to visit the microsite devoted to mobility and complex rehab.
- For advice on Ten Steps to a Great Facility Tour or Ten Steps Toward Effective Media Relations, check on the AAHomecare Action Center. Go to aahomecare.org, and click on “Visit the Action Center” in the right column to download the pdfs.