The Healthcare Leadership Council is a multi-sector healthcare association, with members ranging from medical device companies to hospitals. But unlike most advocacy organizations looking to impact legislation in Congress, HLC’s team focuses its advocacy at the regional level, with six regional directors each in charge of advocacy efforts in a particular part of the United States.
The goal of HLC’s regional structure is building relationships with its association members in a given location, the community that is affected by legislation, and the members of Congress representing that region.
“I know everybody has different grassroots advocacy approaches,” said Amanda Uherek, Director of Government Affairs and Alliance Development at HLC. “[For us], those regional directors are responsible not only for federal congressional activities but really strengthening the bond in the communities and having a good pulse of what’s happening in their states.”
Here are three benefits to taking a regional approach to federal legislative advocacy:
HLC focuses the majority of its meetings at the district offices, making it easier to bring in constituents on a regular basis, rather than coordinating constituent meetings for a fly-in on Capitol Hill .
“We don’t take in the lobbyist or the government affairs folks, we take someone who works on the distribution plant floor,” Uherek said. “We take somebody who is the medical device sales rep or we take in the pharmacist from the local pharmacy to really talk about the footprint and the impact in that congressional district. This resonates more with the member of Congress and they usually give us more time.”
On the other hand, when Uherek—who is based in DC—takes a meeting on Capitol Hill without a constituent, she notes that they are usually shorter and with a staffer. The meetings have a more cut and dry agenda of what the ask is and how that office can help, rather than focused on relationship building.
Being on the ground allows HLC to meet with a variety of policy influencers, particularly freshmen members of Congress or candidates who could hold critical positions in the future. While HLC’s first step on any advocacy project is to meet with legislators who are on key committees, being spread out allows them to build connections outside of just those committees as well.
“Over the course of our program we know that it is critical to forge relationships early on,” Uherek said. “If in a given region if there’s a lot of HLC member companies, then we try to do activities even if the member is a freshmen or on appropriations or judiciary and we found that valuable.”
In the case of candidates, the regional directors monitor open House and Senate seats as well as closely contested races, meeting with candidates to find out their stances on the issues HLC cares about.
“Some of those members remember meeting with our regional team as a candidate, so they are like, ‘Oh, HLC has been here engaged the entire time,’” Uherek said.
One form of advocacy that HLC has made a regular part of its program is partnering with local publications to discuss the issues HLC cares about. For example, when HLC was focused on repealing a particular provision of health reform legislation, it used press as a key factor in its advocacy strategy.
HLC had each regional director reach out to newspapers in their region and propose op-eds. Utilizing the press allowed HLC to increase the volume of their advocates’ voices, but also do so in a way that didn’t require significant budget. By building press relationships over the long term, HLC was a trusted source for those reporters when issues facing the healthcare industry were at the forefront of legislative activity.
“It is similar to building the relationship with a member of Congress,” Uherek said. “[The media is] interested in these HLC members because they have a large presence or they employ a lot of people, so they would be happy to have a local hospital representative come in for an editorial board and answer questions on healthcare things.”