Allyson Hughes, PhD
Communicating with representatives of national and state government is an important part of advocacy efforts to increase the reach of evidence-based behavioral interventions. Unfortunately, policy and advocacy are often overlooked in the curricula of graduate programs, leaving trainees and professionals with unanswered questions about how to incorporate advocacy efforts in their professional endeavors. Dr. Allyson Hughes is an assistant professor at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and past chair of the Diabetes SIG. She recently met with representatives to discuss the need to expand coverage for telehealth services, diabetes self-management training for people with diabetes, and virtual Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) training. We interviewed Dr. Hughes so that she could share her experience with SBM members.
I met with staffers of varying levels of seniority at four legislative offices who were assigned based on their expertise whether it be healthcare, gun reform, education, or something else. In this case, the people I met with were all “local” to me, so I only met with staffers for my state legislators. The meetings were over Zoom and lasted between 20 and 40 minutes.
I prepared for meeting with legislators and staff by attending a training program offered by the Association of Diabetes Care and Education Specialists (ADCES). Each year they host a Capitol Hill Day where they set up legislative meetings for members. ADCES provides specific bills to discuss, and at the end of the meetings there may be a few minutes where we have time to talk about other healthcare topics. This is when I speak about the cost of insulin and what I have learned from my diabetes health policy research.
Some staff members and legislators are very aware of current diabetes bills while others need more explanation. It is important to be prepared to explain specific diabetes terms in a simplistic manner. Staff appreciate follow- up emails with the specific title and bill number. This helps them to accurately pass the message onto the rest of the staff and the legislator they support.
These meetings are not always strictly business. At the end of the day, we are all humans in back-to-back meetings s. So sometimes it is nice to break up the conversation by talking about the best restaurants in your state or sharing pictures of your pets.
Overall, it was a very positive experience. At times you will meet with individuals who do not see eye to eye with you. This is why it is important to know the talking points for each bill. It can help you bridge the gap between each side of the aisle. Importantly, in the last meeting, the legislative director asked how the other advocacy meetings went and if other offices were supporting the bills. The response led her to making meetings with other offices to see if there was enough support across legislators to move the bills forward.
1) Know your “talking points” for each bill. Examples: What will the bill achieve? Is it bipartisan? Who is endorsing this bill?
2) Have a few personal stories ready so that you can leave a lasting impression. Sharing personal stories has been shown to increase the likelihood of change when someone is stuck on one side of an argument. I always talk about how due to the cost of diabetes treatment, many people must seek out supplies online (Facebook, Twitter, and others).
I encourage you to find what you are passionate about in health policy and pursue it. It is very fulfilling and leads to making an important difference not only at the state level but also nationally.
If you are interested in learning more about speaking to state or national representatives or other advocacy work, check out these resources: