How to Engage with Elected Officials When You Can't Meet Face to Face
The concerns of independent community pharmacies and their patients matter to elected officials on a number of levels, some of which have taken on new significance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
First and foremost, pharmacists are healthcare subject matter experts who know the intricacies of their industry and the regulations that govern what they do. On the other hand, only one pharmacist currently serves in Congress and only a few dozen serve in state legislatures across the country. Additionally, pharmacy owners run small businesses that employ people in legislators' home districts and states. Community pharmacies also serve constituents of elected officials, helping patients get the care they need so they can lead healthier lives. A large proportion of pharmacy patients are Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries, which ties back to federal and state reimbursement issues.
Just as it takes time and effort for you to build relationships with the people in your community, it also requires effort to educate your elected officials. One of the most effective ways to get involved with independent pharmacy advocacy is by establishing meaningful two-way communication with legislators who support independent pharmacy policies, particularly in areas such as recognition of pharmacists as reimbursable providers and front-line responders. This has become a critical issue in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as the demand for accessible testing and vaccinations is at its peak.
Political engagement often starts at the local level. Elected officials across the board—from mayors and city council members to state legislators to U.S. representatives and senators—have a responsibility to respond to constituent questions and concerns. If you don't have a personal relationship with any elected officials, a great place to initiate new connections is the local and state level, then get to know your representative in Congress.
In an ideal world, you could visit your legislators in your state Capitol or invite an elected official to your store to get a firsthand look at your operation and how you care for patients in your community. However, that may not be feasible during times of social distancing or if your schedules don’t match up. Consider virtually engaging with lawmakers on independent pharmacy issues under these circumstances, especially as more and more people are taking advantage of new technology. Face-to-face meetings are ideal, but we’re all trying new ways of connecting, even our elected officials! Here are suggestions that wouldn’t take too much time away from patient care and running your business:
- Participate in grassroots campaigns and calls to action
The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) maintains a legislative action center that offers email templates you can use to contact your representative in Congress regarding current pharmacy advocacy issues like supporting the Phair Pricing Act to address direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees. The body of the message has already been composed and you can (and should) personalize it by adding your own story.
Outreach on DIR legislation in April 2020 generated over 3,200 emails to more than 90 percent of congressional offices around the country. In response, 115 bipartisan Members of Congress signed a letter to congressional leadership urging enactment of pharmacy DIR reform. Other email templates are available for pharmacy legislation issues related to ensuring senior access to local pharmacies in underserved areas, bringing greater pricing transparency to generic drug payments under Medicare Part D, and supporting drug compounding by pharmacies.
- Attend a video or tele-townhall meeting
In lieu of in-person meetings with constituents, many elected officials have opted to connect with people virtually via live video and teleconference calls. Check your elected official's website and social media accounts for scheduling details and sign up for event alerts. I recently watched an Instagram Live meeting on my iPhone with a U.S. Senator and a political reporter. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many elected officials to rely on technology to engage with constituents and stakeholders.
- Leverage social media
You may not have time to allocate to an open townhall-type meeting, but you likely have a few spare minutes to send social media messages to your elected officials, most of whom regularly monitor their accounts. Write a brief message or record a video snippet and share it with your legislators via a social media platform where you and the elected officials are both engaged. Identify yourself as an independent pharmacy owner, share your business location, note the demographics of your patient community (e.g., X percent are covered by Medicare, Y percent are covered by Medicaid), and highlight a legislative issue you would like to bring to their attention.
- Request a virtual meeting with your legislator
Zoom, Facebook Live and other web-based conferencing platforms offer intuitive technology that enables participants to meet online with video capabilities. Ask to confirm a time to meet with your legislator and provide a brief video tour of your pharmacy. You can use the camera on your smartphone or tablet to lead a quick video walk-through of your pharmacy and then discuss a few issues of importance with your legislator.
- Relay a message through legislative staff
Call your local, state or federal legislator’s office and explain that you only need a few minutes to introduce yourself and discuss pharmacy policies that are affecting you and your community.
Despite the challenges of these uncertain times, you can still make a difference in independent pharmacy by being an advocate for your profession and your patients. Local, state and federal legislators are incredibly engaged with citizens through the use of new and evolving technology, so start educating elected officials why it's important for your independently owned business to continue to provide the standard of care all patients deserve.