The midterm election of 2014 has resulted in a great shift in the national political landscape. The control of the Senate is now in Republicans hands. For the first time, there will be 100 women collectively in both houses of Congress. And a total of 65 freshman Representatives and Senators have been elected to national office.
For Health Center advocates, this means that a number of familiar faces in Congress will soon be replaced by new legislators some of whom will have limited knowledge about Health Centers and the role they play in the health and economy of communities across the nation. What remains unchanged, however, is the need for Congress, current or incoming, to work together with the administration to fix the Health Center Funding Cliff – an up to 70% reduction in grant funding that will take effect in October 2015 if Congress fails to act.
With these facts on the table, it is now more important than ever for Health Center Advocates to reach out early and establish relationships with newly elected Members of Congress, particularly in the remaining months of 2014 before they arrive in Washington to begin their tenure in office.
“This is an opportunity to shine,” said Ellen Adlum, a Board Member with Peninsula Community Health Services of Alaska. “When Lisa Murkowski was elected, we made it a point to meet with her and her delegation at the Health Center.” She continued, “We did our homework and went in with a clear and passionate message: Health Centers are a wise investment that provide the best care to those that would not otherwise have the ability to pay for medical services. We have a proven track record with decades of successful experience that is working to make our community healthier. She was so impressed with our Health Center, our staff, and our model. She became an early ally that we trusted and could turn to.”
Lisa Davidson, Director of Government Relations and Advocacy with the Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association, actively reaches out to her advocates to leverage existing relationships that they may already have with a newly elected Member of Congress. “Some of our advocates and Board Members worked on campaigns and attended fundraising events. This is particularly the case in smaller communities,” said Davidson. Not only have these relationships helped facilitate visits by newly elected legislators to Health Centers but they have also paved the way for more in depth discussion about the Health Center Funding Cliff and its effect upon
the member’s constituents. “We make it clear that all the good work we have done – giving people a high-quality medical home and saving the taxpayers money by treating patients who would otherwise go to the emergency room – is threatened if a fix to the Health Center Funding Cliff is not found,” explained Davidson
Thus, with the midterm election of 2014 as a backdrop, we are asking EVERY Health Centers to set up meetings at their Health Center with newly elected Members of Congress BEFORE they arrive in Washington. Part of the second phase of the Access is the Answer campaign, these meetings will help establish a supportive relationship and basic understanding of Health Center policy priorities and value.
To help your Health Center set-up these meetings and ensure that they are productive, NACHC is here to help. On our website, we have resources including:
- Best practices to invite and secure a visit with newly elected officials at your Health Center
- Talking points about how to ensure productive meetings and communicate effectively with your elected officials
- Materials – including state specific data and fact sheets – to have at the ready during these meetings.
- How to establish and maintain a relationship with your elected officials
“The key for Health Center advocates to understand is that, even though a change in Congressional leadership has occurred, the Health Center model is an apolitical one that works,” said Adlum. “Health Centers were started with the support of Senator Edward Kennedy and expanded under President George W. Bush. We’re a consistent and effective safety net providing vital primary, dental, and mental health care to over 22 million patients each year.”
“Regardless of the outcome of the election, ultimately we need every newly elected Member of Congress to arrive in Washington a Health Center Champion – fully aware of the invaluable role Health Centers play in the community and to the health care system overall, fully aware of what is at stake relative to the Health Center Funding Cliff, and committed to take swift action to fix the Health Center Funding Cliff upon arriving in DC,” noted NACHC’s Director of National Advocacy and Civic Engagement Amanda Pears Kelly.