Washington — Assign roles. Develop your talking points. Share personal stories.
In an effort to educate members of Congress on the importance of three dental and health care-related proposals, hundreds gathered for a March 27 morning session to kick off the ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day.
This is the first year the ADA is holding its annual advocacy conference in conjunction with the American Student Dental Association’s lobbying event. Formerly known as the ADA Washington Leadership Conference, the ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day is hosting some 1,000 dentists, dental students, state association staff and other dental leaders in the nation’s capital.
The March 26-28 event is expected to be the largest and most successful advocacy event for any health care association in 2017, organizers said.
“We always have to realize that the younger dentists, particularly the dental students, are the future of our profession. By including them into this venture, we’re able to put them in front of the legislators so they can explain to them what’s on their mind,” said Dr. Richard Andolina, American Dental Political Action Committee chair. “We need to be at the table. We need to have the ears of our legislators. That’s why we do this.”
During their visits to Capitol Hill, attendees will meet with members of Congress and their staffs and speak out on three issues important to the oral health profession and patients: repeal of the McCarran-Ferguson antitrust exemption, student loan and debt issues and health care reform.
But first, attendees gathered for the How to Meet with Your Member of Congress session on March 27. Those attending, seated to look like a national political party convention, received some tips and advice from Dr. Charlie McGinty, former ADPAC chair; Dr. Justin Norbo, New Dentist Committee member; and Sara Golkari, of the ASDA Council on Advocacy. The three role-played as constituents meeting with their representative to advocate for several issues.
Before meeting with their representative or senator, groups whose members are from specific states and districts were encouraged to assign roles, such as who will do the introductions, which member will speak for each issue and who will do the closing.
They were advised to focus on the top three points they want the member of Congress to remember about the legislation being discussed. This included sharing stories on how a particular law or bill has personally affected the student or member dentist.
Organizers said telling a story about the effects that legislation or an issue has on a constituent or district has a greater impact than facts and figures on the position of a member of Congress.
“In 2016, the average educational debt per graduating dental school senior was over $262,000. I myself am carrying $400,000,” said Ms. Golkari, during the role play.
“Now, I know $400,000 may not seem a lot,” Ms. Golkari said, prompting laughter from the audience. However, with interest rates, that amount can only grow, she added.
Most dental students rely on federal student loans to finance their dental education. While the interest rates and repayment terms for federal student loans are generally more favorable than private sector loans, the borrowing terms can still be daunting, according to the ADA.
In addition, the dental students and ADA dentist members plan on urging their members of Congress to:
- Ensure people have access to oral health services when considering reforms to Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act.
- Continue their support of H.R. 372, The Competitive Health Insurance Reform Act, which would amend the McCarran-Ferguson Act’s antitrust exemption and which overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives on March 22.
“[Lobby Day] is an amazing opportunity to step away from the purely academic studies and get involved,” said Brittany Tate, first-year dental student at the University of California Los Angeles. “I’m just starting out, but student debt is a reality for all of us.”
Belen Diaz, first-year student at the University of Texas School of Dentistry, is also advocating for Congress to address the issue of student loans.
Ms. Diaz is scheduled to meet with the staff of Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
“We’re looking to lower those student loan interest rates,” said Ms. Diaz, who attended the How to Meet with Your Member of Congress session. “I’m a little nervous about meeting the legislators. I know they want to meet their constituents and hear from us, but they’re also mini-celebrities, so we just want to do well.”
Along with reminding attendees how to interact with their members of Congress during their meetings, the morning session also advised them on another important matter: what not to say. These include avoiding conversations on topics not related to the legislative issue under discussion, partisan politics and political activities or fundraisers.
The goal of the session legislators and their staff hear on point messages from both dental students and ADA members.
“The ADA Dentist and Student Lobby Day is this fantastic event. We’ve joined forces where we have dentists and student counterparts fly in and come to Capitol Hill,” said Abby Halpern, chair for the ASDA Council on Advocacy. “They’re able to talk to their representatives and staffers, and really speak about the issues affecting our profession and our patients.”
Follow all of the Lobby Day activities on social media using the conference’s official hashtag #ToothParty.
Stay tuned to ADA News for continuing coverage of Lobby Day.