AOPA 2011 Policy Forum

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By Karen Henry

Grassroots Efforts Really Do Make a Difference

Rep. Wally Herger (R-CA), chair of the health subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee speaks at the AOPA Policy Forum. Photograph courtesy of AOPA.

In the days leading up to this year's American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA) Policy Forum, the Federal government was in a political gridlock about the budget for the rest of the fiscal year and was operating under the cloud of a possible shutdown.

AOPA Executive Director Tom Fise, JD, assured Policy Forum registrants in a letter that the event would take place as scheduled regardless of a shutdown. An 11th-hour budget deal between the U.S. House, Senate, and the Obama administration averted the shutdown, and before a moderated discussion between former Congressmen Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) and Scott Klug (R-WI), Fise said the fact that the government did not shut down was "a very good sign."

More than 100 AOPA members-comprising O&P practitioners and administrators, manufacturer representatives, consumers, and O&P association leaders-gathered at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel, Washington DC, on April 11-12 to receive a crash course in effective lobbying, learn more about the key policy issues that impact the O&P industry, and meet with members of Congress and their staffs. Invited speakers discussed such topics as Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) fraud and abuse initiatives, dealing with Medicaid cuts, strategies for enacting state licensure, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the Insurance Fairness for Amputees Act, efforts to increase funding for O&P research and education, and the medical device excise tax.

Commenting about the medical device excise tax, Tom DiBello, CO, FAAOP, told attendees, "We're between a rock and a hard place. We cannot pass this tax along to patients.... We have to stop this."

After being educated about on key policy issues, Mary Adrus, assistant vice president, government relations, for Easter Seals' office of public affairs, discussed strategies for personalizing messages with stories that involve a piece of legislation. "What [Congress] people want to hear now are the stories," she said. Because prearranged meetings between individuals and their state representatives were brief, several speakers stressed the importance of sticking to one or two key issues. Frank Bostock, CO, FAAOP, regional vice president at Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics, Phoenix, Arizona, recommended that messages be kept simple, clear, and concrete. He also advised taking a big-picture, long-term approach to lobbying efforts. "This is a forever process," he said.

Fise provided similar advice. "The goal is to be able to see your legislator walking down the street and have them recognize you. That's the goal. Don't let this be a one-time thing."

Though O&P is a relatively small fish in a vast ocean of issues and funding proposals, Beltway insiders noted when niche groups like O&P combine real-life stories with targeted, unified messages, grassroots advocacy is at its most effective. "It really does make a difference," Klug said.