It’s a question all new members of FWAHU ask themselves, especially after learning how active FWAHU is in the legislative process at the state and national levels. Our industry lives and dies by Legislation. Good legislation is grown, not from the efforts of lawmakers, but the concerns of citizens like you. And your voice is one of power when it comes to our industry.
Being involved in legislation is very easy. And one can go as deep into the process as one wishes. Often many do not get involved because they do not know how, or are intimidated by the process. These tips and pointers are designed to help you get involved in an easy way. After that, it’s up to you to decide how far down the rabbit hole you wish to go.
Contact is the Foundation
Without a doubt, personal contact is the best and most effective method of developing a relationship with your elected officials. This contact can be made by phone, fax, email, personal visits or regular mail. Of these, personal visits and phone call are the most effective. When a lawmaker, or their aides, hears from constituents about concerns, they love it. After all, they are you’re representative! Hearing from constituency gives that official a feel for what is going on in the district, what the people want, and how they should react.
But you have an extra advantage in developing that relationship – your profession! Being a member of FWAHU (and by relation, TAHU and NAHU), you have the ability to position yourself to that official as an expert in your field. When you tell an official or their aides that you would like to be considered a resource for insurance-related matters, pretty soon THEY will be calling YOU! Our elected officials are great servants of the people, but they can’t know everything about everything. They rely on outside experts, professionals and constituents to enlighten them on particular topics. How would you like to be known by your congressperson’s office as the “go-to guy” for insurance related matters? It can happen. And it does – regularly.
Often the elected official is very busy during sessions and hard to see or talk too personally. That’s OK. To be honest, it is the staff of the official to whom you wish to speak most often. Often there is one person on the staff who deals with insurance or health care matters. Getting to know that person will be the best move you can make. They are accessible, willing to hear from you, wanting your input, and eager to share their views. That staff member is your legislative “best friend.” Get to know them by name, and let them get to know you by name! Once the staffer knows you are willing to be a resource, the calls will come.
Keeping your foot in the door
Contact is great, and the best help for our industry. But the best help for you to maintain that contact is by showing the elected official you support them. This can mean many things, but basically it’s whatever you can do to show them that you want to be involved in helping them get re-elected. Volunteer to help them with campaigns, phone banks or other duties during elections. Your help will not go unnoticed!
Another good means is by donating to their campaign. Elections cost money, and if your official is someone you believe in, help them win by donating to the cause. Even a few hundred bucks a year can go a long way to keeping you in their high esteem. The most one can donate per year, per candidate is generally $5,000. But don’t be intimidated by that number – all levels of contributions are recorded and known by the official’s office. You will be appreciated for any help.
One side note: it is illegal for an elected official to accept any contributions from corporations or entities. All contributions must come from individuals, and are not tax-deductible. Also, they cannot accept contributions in office spaces that are paid for by public funds. So, often they will hold fund-raisers at a home or restaurant. Simply ask to be put on the mailing list and you will know when these events take place.
When to visit
All elected officials have a schedule that takes them to the capital for a certain amount of time, then back home for the rest. Thus they all have two offices – one local and one at the capital. It’s good to make contact with both and get to know the staff at both. These offices intercommunicate very well, but knowing people in both covers your bases, especially when you want to schedule a visit.
A personal visit with your official is perhaps the best method for establishing that relationship. When they can put a face to a name, or an organization, it brings a lot of cohesion to the mix. Officials love to hear real stories from real people, and how proposed legislation will affect the masses, either positively or negatively. They might not always agree with you or you them, but if you just present the facts as you see them, and listen to their side, no harm will ever come the relationship. If you have presented yourself as a possible resource to them for your industry, they will listen.
The best times to catch them are obviously when they are in the district on break from the capital. The local office knows when those times are and can schedule you in. Feel free to bring a colleague or two if you wish, just be sure to have your points of discussion ironed out beforehand. No official has time to just sit and shoot the breeze. After the initial introductions and brief small talk, tell them why you want to visit and get to it. They will appreciate your consideration of their time.
Is it intimidating?
Only if you let it be. Listen, these elected officials are people, just like you and I. They have families, bills, vacations, health issues, kids, etc. They are as normal as you and I. And they are all very friendly (how else would they have gotten elected?). Just talk to them as you would any other person and present your side of the story. They are not going to leap over the table and strangle you if you say something they don’t agree with. In fact, they thank you pointing out issues which they may not be aware of.
Point is, they are there to listen to you, and as long as you’re respectful of their time and their positions, they will reciprocate that back to you. And along the way you might find that you have many more things in common with them then you thought!
How do I get started?
Make a phone call and ask the name of the official’s aide in charge if health insurance. Introduce yourself to them and tell them you are an insurance agent and you have either: 1) a concern to ask about, or 2) a desire to be a resource to them for insurance related matters. That will get the ball rolling…
If possible, schedule a visit with the local office and meet the aide, if not the elected official. If it’s your first visit, consider asking a FWAHU member who has done such visits to join you. There’s no better training that can be had then watching someone who has “been there, done that.”
Once that first meeting is finished, before you get to your car you are going to be ready to schedule another visit soon. It becomes very addicting.
For more information, or help in getting involved, visit your local Association of Health Underwriters meetings. Or contact Debbie Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.