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Engage With Your Elected Officials

Getting Started

Every citizen should feel comfortable communicating with elected officials on any public policy issue—including health care reform. Elected officials value the input of voters who can provide perspective on an issue from “back home.” Whether you’re communicating with an official—or a staff member—in writing, by phone, or in person, here are some overarching guidelines:

  • Introduce Yourself—Provide your name, say where you live, and describe your point of view; e.g., a small-business owner, a health care provider, a parent with young children, etc.
  • Be Direct about the Purpose of Your Communication—Tell your official that you are communicating about health care reform—and, where possible, a specific aspect of reform, making your views clear.
  • Provide Evidence—Highlight your own story—for instance, are you seeing your health care costs increase, or is your employer eliminating your health benefits?—and share key facts about the health care reform debate.
  • Be Respectful—You can be firm and express strong feelings, but be sure to remain polite, with elected officials and their staff.

 

Tips for Writing

In addition to following the general guidelines above, when you email, fax, or send a letter, remember to:

  • Be Brief—Keep your letter to key points and focus on a single issue such as health care reform. Generally, your letter should be no longer than two pages.
  • Make a Request—Ask your official to take action, such as supporting changes to the health care reform law.
  • Ask for a Response—Politely request that your official respond and share his or her position on the matter at hand.

 

Tips for Calls

When you telephone an elected official’s office, you will most likely speak to a staff member or be routed to a voice mail system. It is fine to leave a message, and you should not expect to speak directly to the legislator. There are exceptions, and sometimes state elected officials even answer their own calls. When calling a legislator’s office, follow these guidelines:

  • Prepare Your Message—You do not have to read from a script, but it’s a good idea to collect your thoughts before you call and even jot down a few “talking points.”
  • Speak Slowly and Clearly—Especially if you’re leaving a voice mail message, remember to speak clearly and not too fast.
  • State Your Topic and Ask to Speak to the Appropriate Staff Member—After you state your name and location, explain that you are calling about health care reform and ask to speak to the staff member who handles this issue.
  • Be Brief—Especially if you are leaving a voice mail message, remember to be direct and brief.
  • Be Polite—Health care reform is an emotional issue for many. It’s okay to express your passion and conviction, but make sure your tone and words are respectful.
  • Provide Your Contact Information—Leave your phone number and email so that your legislator can respond.

 

Tips for Meetings

One-on-one or small-group meetings with elected officials can have an enormous impact. These meetings give you a chance to have a conversation, make your views heard, and build a relationship with your official and staff members. The general guidelines above apply, and also remember to:

  • Schedule Well in Advance and Confirm Your Meeting—Legislators have very busy schedules that change frequently. Schedule your meeting—whether at a district or main office—by telephone at least two weeks in advance. Confirm your meeting a day or two before as well. Keep in mind that your meeting may be rescheduled or cut short.
  • Be Prepared—Be relaxed, be yourself, and be prepared. Know what you’re going to say and be ready with information and examples.
  • Be Concise and Flexible—Stay to your key points and recognize that you may only have ten or fifteen minutes to talk with your officials. Sometimes, officials will engage in longer, in-depth conversations, but often they must keep to a tight schedule.
  • Ask to Take a Photograph—Tell the legislator’s office in advance that you would like to take a photo of you (and your group, if applicable) with the official. At the end of the meeting, ask the legislator to join you in a photo, and ask a staff member to take the picture with your camera or phone. Share your photo later on Facebook and with the Health Action Network to publicize your meeting. Legislators often appreciate this as well.
  • Follow-Up with a Thank You Letter—Send a brief letter (or email) thanking your legislator and reiterating your main points.

 

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