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Pharmacy Advocacy: Exercise Your Right to Influence the Legislative Process
by Christopher W. Crank, PharmD, MS, BCPS; ICHP Executive Vice President
I am sure many ICHP members will see the title of this column and think or feel at least one of the following:
- "I will not make a difference."
- "I do not have time for that!"
- "I do not know enough."
- "I do not know where to start."
I want to try to address some of these thoughts in this article. It is understandable that you may feel this way. I felt this way for many years before I started routinely participating in the Government Affairs Division. Through my involvement in Government Affairs and ICHP, I have learned a lot about the impact that a three-pronged approach to advocacy can have. The three prongs to successful advocacy are: the individual, the organization, and the lobbyist.
Many people feel that government is too big to influence, or that legislators do not care. While there is some truth to this statement, it is also an overgeneralization of reality. Legislators do want to hear from their constituents. In fact, legislators have acknowledged that as few as six communications from their individual constituents can influence their opinions and votes. In addition, one expert opinion that is concise and well thought out can have an impact on the way the legislator votes. Your vote and voice have power.
Advocating for our patients and the profession of pharmacy does not have to take a lot of your time. Most legislators have websites that allow you to send them a message quickly and easily. I have found it takes about 15 minutes to compose a message. You can use communications from organizations such as ICHP as a starting point for your correspondence. Copy and paste is a wonderful function. However, add something personal or local. Tell the story of how the proposed legislation will positively or negatively affect patients, the community, pharmacists, healthcare systems, or healthcare in general. A good story or anecdote goes much further than a communication chock-full of data and technical details. You might be asking, “What about form letters from organizations? Aren’t they enough?” Most experts acknowledge form letters have some impact, but not as much as a personal communication. Legislators often view these letters as representing an organization’s goals and needs. An organization does not vote for legislators. In addition, a form letter to a legislator is often responded to as a form letter. If you do not make it local or personal, neither will the legislator.
As pharmacists and technicians, we are some of the most - if not the most - knowledgeable groups when it comes to all medication-related topics. In some ways, improving your knowledge and abilities around advocacy is just like developing skills and knowledge in a clinical practice setting. You start out not knowing as much as you need to, but with practice and experience, you become more proficient. When composing your communication, rely on your organization to provide you with the important talking points. If you do not understand them, research them, or reach out to someone for guidance. The individual has great potential to impact legislation. I encourage you to become actively engaged in the legislative process for your patients, your profession, and yourself.
An organization on its own will have difficulty impacting the voting positions of legislators. As I mentioned earlier, organizations cannot vote. Legislators are most interested in hearing from their constituents. This does not mean organizations do not have a key role in advocacy. A large part of the advocacy role for the organization is to provide education and talking points on legislation for its members. The goal is that the members will take the information provided and let their legislators know what their stance is on the proposed legislation. In addition, organizations actively work with legislators toward improving proposed legislation.
In the upcoming year, we at ICHP will begin using social media and email blasts to communicate with you on important legislative matters. We will provide you with a summary of the proposed legislation, what it means to our patients and to the pharmacy profession, and key talking points to use with your legislators. I hope that this will help engage more of our members in advocacy efforts.
According to Merriam Webster, a lobbyist is one who conducts activities aimed at influencing or swaying public officials and especially members of a legislative body on legislation. The lobbyist is an expert on the political process and machinery. They have their ear to the ground, and they inform the organization about proposed legislation, legislators’ stances, and which legislators are in support of, opposed to, or neutral on legislation. The lobbyist attempts to persuade the legislator to propose, pass, amend, or defeat legislation and regulations. They have connections within the political system that can be used to acquire information and provide information to legislators. In addition, they can inform the organization they represent on which other organizations are in support of, opposed to, or neutral on legislation. The lobbyist is key to successful advocacy. ICHP’s lobbyist is Liz Brown-Reeves. Liz became a lobbyist for ICHP in 2019, and she does a wonderful job of keeping the Government Affairs Division and the ICHP staff informed on what is happening in Springfield.
Advocacy is the responsibility of the individual, the organization, and the lobbyist. When all three prongs are in sync, great things can be accomplished. I want to challenge every ICHP member to reach out to their state legislators at least twice in 2021. It comes down to this: Would you rather complain about enacted legislation that impacts your patients and your practice or advocate so that we can influence the legislation while it is being composed? I think the latter is the most effective route.