A first-person perspective on navigating EMS on the Hill Day

If you’re considering attending — and I heartily encourage you to — the following information might prove helpful

By Mike Touchstone

Someone recently asked me, “What is EMS on the Hill Day and why are you going?”

My answer was, “It’s an opportunity to take part in the process of the federal government and a chance to educate ourselves about the policy process and our congressional representatives about EMS and EMS issues. It is an event that can help initiate change. How many times have you heard the phrase, ‘If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem?’ Attending EMS on the Hill Day is an action that is part of the solution.”

If you’re considering attending EMS on the Hill Day — and I heartily encourage you to — the following information might prove helpful.

Preparing to attend EMS on the Hill Day

Back in January, I started making plans for the trip to D.C.: working out the estimated expenses, writing the memos requesting authorization to attend and get reimbursed. The standard bureaucratic hoop dance.

While waiting for the yay or nay, I did several things to prepare. I checked out the websites of my senators and congressman to determine voting records, the bills they’ve introduced and sponsored, and their committees’ memberships. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have some insight into their political stances and what activities interest them. I admit that I am not generally very politically active, but I got inspired by the opportunity to actually do something politically meaningful.

Once my trip was approved, I made reservations, registered for the event and started researching the Field EMS Bill, refreshing my memory on its specifics. As the date drew closer, NAEMT provided documents that included several “asks,” as well as talking points that supported the asks. The talking points were instrumental in preparing me for the meetings. It’s important to have a handle on the issues and the asks; the meetings are brief and we need to get our message across.

Our message to Congress

As for the asks, we would request that our congressional representatives:

  • Support H.R. 809, the Patient Center, Quality and Efficient Field EMS Bill—or, simply, the Field EMS Bill
  • Join the EMS Caucus

We would ask our senators to:

  • Support repeal of the Sustainable Growth Rate formula and support Senate bills S. 2110 and S. 1871, which both include provisions to extend the Medicare add-on payments for ground ambulance transport
  • Support passage of H.R. 1791, the Medical Preparedness Allowable Use Act as passed by the House

Preparing for the meetings

NAEMT sets up all of the meetings; on the night before our meetings, NAEMT provided a briefing and an opportunity for attendees to meet with their delegation. It is critically important to be ready to communicate clearly, concisely and accurately; the meetings are often short, around 20–30 minutes. Preparation makes for an accurate and confident presentation. NAEMT also provides excellent support materials with talking points and “leave behinds.”

Twelve individuals from my home state made up the Pennsylvania contingent, which was split into two groups. My delegation met, talked about how we would handle the meetings and made a plan to meet up early the next day.

The EMS on the Hill Day meetings

The following morning, my delegation, Team 35–Pennsylvania B, met in the lobby and took a taxi to Capitol Hill, where we spent the entire day walking from meeting to meeting. Most of the folks who attend wear their Class A uniforms; make sure your dress uniform shoes are broken in and somewhat comfortable, because we covered a lot of ground. 

My delegation had eight meetings scheduled, the first at 9:30 with Sen. Bob Casey’s legislative correspondent and his legislative aide. We opened by thanking the staffers for meeting with us and clearly stating the asks. We presented the talking points, answered questions and made sure we allowed everyone an opportunity to speak. We also tried to be concise and stay on message.

After the meeting, we followed a Casey intern to the other side of Capitol Hill, walking through the tunnels and along the Capitol subway, to the office of Rep. Allyson Schwartz. We met with the congresswoman’s health policy fellow and had what seemed to be a productive meeting.

After that meeting, we paused in the hall and talked a bit. We recognized that we had a tendency to drift off message and into discussions of the ACA and ambulance reimbursement—important topics, of course, but with the short time available to present our asks, we all agreed that we would try to be more cognizant of our focus and even set up a code phrase to use when someone drifted. If one of the group said, “Remember, EMS is healthcare,” we knew we were starting to head off into the weeds and to get back to focusing on the asks.

At noon, all of the groups met and assembled on the Capitol steps for a large group photo and state delegation pictures. After a quick lunch, it was back to the grind and onward to more meetings. Our first stop was the office of my representative, Chaka Fattah. I had the opportunity to get a quick picture taken with the congressman and then we met with his legislative counsel. He seemed to understand the importance of what we were asking and assured us that he would bring the issues to Rep. Fattah’s attention.

Next we met briefly with Rep. Glenn Thompson, who had to get to a floor vote. He stayed long enough to tell the story of a recent incident when he stopped at a car crash to render aid. It turns out Rep. Thompson is an EMT, and he told us he still carries his gear in his trunk. We were able to get a quick group photo before he left for the floor. We stayed to continue our meeting with the congressman’s legislative director and presented the asks and the talking points. It seems likely that Rep. Thompson will join the EMS Caucus and sign on as a co-sponsor of the Field EMS Bill.

We had a very productive meeting with Monica Volante, Rep. Joe Pitts’ legislative director. She was very receptive and assured us that Rep. Pitts would join the EMS Caucus, perhaps by the end of the week. I followed up with a call to the office and confirmed that Rep. Pitts had indeed joined.

Our final meeting of the day, at 4:30, was with staffers from Sen. Pat Toomey’s office. We had another good meeting and answered several questions the staffers posed.

It was a long day, with lots of walking, climbing stairs and trying to make sure we got to where we were supposed to be and on time. I was tired but invigorated: It is exciting to participate in the policy process. It takes some dedication and willingness to continue to push the messages to our politicians, but if we don’t take responsibility to make our concerns heard, no one else will.

Once I arrived home and processed the trip, I wrote letters to all of the staffers we met with, thanking them for their time and reiterating the messages we presented. It’s a great experience and I plan to attend again next year.

About the author

Mike Touchstone is the ffire-paramedicservice chief at the Philadelphia Fire Department and president-elect of NEMSMA.

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