As the pandemic took hold in the U.S. and communities implemented strict social distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders, the Endocrine Society pivoted its advocacy approach to Congress and launched a strategic “virtual” Hill Day to advocate our recommendations for relief legislation.
Originally, the Society had planned a Hill Day for April 20 to bring members to Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers and their staffs and advocate in advance of scheduled May legislation that was to include funding for the Special Diabetes Program (SDP) and potential drug pricing provisions. But then COVID-19 happened, and Congress focused its attention solely on legislation to provide relief for the pandemic. There would be no May legislation. Further, there could be no visits to the Capitol.
The Society quickly re-evaluated its plan and changed its approach. While it is hard to influence policy when you cannot – to borrow a line from Hamiliton – be in the room where it happens, Endocrine Society Government and Public Affairs staff developed a plan to have members get to key Congressional offices April 14 just as they were beginning negotiations on a fourth COVID-19 relief package and share recommendations for how to support researchers, clinicians, and patients.
After hearing from our members – some on the front lines caring for patients in hospitals, some who had to close their labs, some who reported they were seeing most patients via telehealth, and some who were alarmed for their patients facing tough economic times and/or who were particularly vulnerable to the virus – we developed the following recommendations for the Hill Day:
Congress needed to:
- Alleviate the critical shortage of PPE;
- Increase reimbursement for telehealth visits that were telephone-only and could not be completed with a video connection;
- Support additional funding for the NIDDK;
- Provide a 90-day supply of diabetes test strips; and
- Eliminate patient cost-sharing for insulin.
We organized our virtual Hill Day by first identifying who in Congress would be making decisions on the legislation and then finding Endocrine Society members who lived in those congressional districts or states and could provide personal examples justifying our recommendations. Then, we created three tiers of Society participants:
Tier 1 – Society members who were a constituent of a key member of Congress and who we could schedule a phone call with a senior congressional staff person in that office;
Tier 2 – Society members who were a constituent of a key member of Congress and who we could not schedule a phone call for, but who could write a personalized, detailed letter and send directly to a senior congressional staff person in that office; and
Tier 3 – All other U.S. Society members who we would ask to participate in an online advocacy campaign.
Our plan yielded success: We were able to connect directly with congressional offices, including the Speaker of the House, both the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and House and Senate leaders of key committees. Our online campaign generated almost 1,000 letters to Congress within 24 hours. Additionally, we received positive feedback from congressional offices, including one Senate staffer who told a coalition of health groups to “work it like the Endocrine Society,” and we even got press coverage in Bloomberg News about our virtual lobbying approach.
In late April, congressional negotiations on the fourth relief package are difficult and ongoing. It remains unclear what will be the scope of the legislation and if Congress can pass it from a distance or address when it returns to Washington in May or June. However, because Congress was deliberating on these issues, we know our timing was critical, and we are hopeful that our concerns and asks will be addressed.
We consider the April 14 virtual Hill Day to be a success and, based on this experience, we hope to conduct more Hill Day teleconferences even when social distancing is relaxed in order to engage more of our members and further amplify our messages. If you are interested in participating in a future Hill Day, either in person or virtually, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All members of Congress need to hear from their constituents about what is needed to support researchers, clinicians, and patients. Please join the Endocrine Society’s online advocacy campaign by visiting endocrine.org/takeaction. Our campaign will immediately direct an email to your representative and senators after you provide your zip code and contact information. This will only take a minute of your time, but it will have significant influence!