Report from the 2010 TAFP Leadership and Legislative Conference
Event trains family physicians in grassroots advocacy
A group of current and future TAFP leaders gathered in Austin Friday, April 9, and Saturday, April 10, to hone their leadership and legislative skills in preparation for the upcoming 2010 election cycle and 82nd Texas Legislature.
The conference began Friday night with dinner and a panel discussion on federal health reform as David Hilgers, one of the foremost health care attorneys in Texas, gave a synopsis of the health reform bill and dispelled some myths about what it contains. Roland Goertz, M.D., M.B.A., a Waco family physician and AAFP president-elect, answered questions from attendees on how the national Academy earned a seat at the table in the federal negotiations and actions AAFP will take to continue shaping the reform. The last speaker of the evening, Kim Ross, longtime health care lobbyist and consultant, presented implications for Texas and answered questions from the audience.
Saturday lectures armed physicians with the tools to get engaged at multiple levels of lobbying and with the media. Ross began the morning by discussing the importance of relationships, encouraging attendees to get to know their state representatives so these lawmakers will turn to them when in need of a perspective on policy issues affecting physicians.
Robert Earley, CEO of John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth and former state representative, continued this message. “If you heed any piece of advice, heed this: Plan to connect with legislators three times this year,” Earley said. “Take your state representative to lunch, call your state senator or send an e-mail, show up at a campaign event and introduce yourself.”
Earley described his own experience in elected office, saying that the people who were best able to influence him didn’t approach him only during the busy legislative session when he met with group after group in 10-minute blocks. The ones who made a real difference cultivated a relationship in their home community and fostered that relationship over a period of time. Most importantly, he said, “make politics local.” “When you talk to your legislators, tell them how a bill would affect your patients, local businesses, and your community. Explain the impact on their constituents rather than grand philosophical terms and they’ll listen.”
The conference shifted gears as Kim Ross segued from interacting with legislators to interacting with the media. TAFP Director of Communications Jonathan Nelson gave a presentation on the Academy’s successful campaign during the last legislative session to pass one of the most generous physician education loan repayment programs in the country. By managing the media, crafting a message, and soliciting partnerships across the state, TAFP took a tax bill and framed it as the solution for the primary care physician shortage. As a result, the state has an updated program in place that will attract physicians to the areas that need them most, and physicians have an opportunity to remove the burden of educational debt.
Amanda Holt, AAFP public relations specialist, gave advice on media relations and how to approach an interview. First, she said, understand the difference between reporters and physicians. Physicians think in data, economics, and reports. Reporters think in “story mode,” often seeking to educate the public, describe conflict, and present solutions. When answering questions, focus on people, avoid negative words, and stay on message. Also keep answers as short as possible, aiming for the ideal six-second sound bite.
Holt encouraged physicians to prepare for an interview by gathering information on the topic beforehand, researching past articles written by the interviewer to get a sense of his or her style, and anticipating who else may be interviewed for the story. When asked to speak on a large issue, choose the top three points to address and focus on those, repeating the message to make sure it resonates with the reporter, and personalizing and localizing the issue as much as possible.
She led attendees through an exercise in “bridging and blocking,” explaining how to respond to an off-topic question and direct the reporter back to the message. One attendee asked how physicians could control which part of the interview the reporter uses for the article. “Technically, you can’t,” Holt says, “But, by staying on message and repeating your main points, the reporter has no other choice than to use what you intend.”
Finally, three members of TAFP’s lobbying team—Dan Hinkle, Marshall Kenderdine, and Kurt Meachum—spoke frankly about what attendees can expect during the next legislative session. The session will center on three major issues, they said: the budget, redrawing the state’s district map, and the impact of federal health care reform.
Hinkle estimates that the state will face a deficit of around $17 billion for the 2012-2013 biennium, with $9 billion available in the rainy day fund, a savings account to be used in times of economic shortfalls. “Lawmakers won’t spend the entire rainy day fund, but they won’t pass a tax bill. There will be tremendous cuts,” he says. “Bottom line, the Legislature will focus on the budget through mid-April, then redistricting.”
Kenderdine says a lot will depend on the rainy day fund, which could potentially fill the gap. However, he continues, “there’s a group of fiscal conservatives who would rather see spending cut than spend the rainy day fund. State leadership aren’t big fans of Medicaid and social service programs, and they’re easier to cut than public safety or schools.”
Meachum stresses that success in the 82nd session will be measured differently than usual. “A win this session will be maintaining current programs, avoiding major cuts,” he says.
Attendees left the conference armed with the knowledge they’ll need to advocate for the specialty. As federal health reform rolls out and another Texas Legislature convenes, the Academy will call on its members to amplify TAFP’s advocacy effort. TAFP staff is also here to help: Contact TAFP at any time for help crafting messages, preparing for a media interview, or reaching out to a legislator. For more information and to access issue briefs and policy documents, visit the Advocacy section of the TAFP website, www.tafp.org/advocacy.