The start of 2021 brings to Washington, DC, a new Congress and a new administration, and ASH has already started work to ensure that new policy makers know about the issues ASH members face every day. The Hematologist spoke with the newly designated Chair of the ASH Committee on Government Affairs Dr. Jennifer Holter Chakrabarty and new Vice Chair Dr. Jonathan Hoggatt, to learn how ASH members can help build relationships with newly elected officials. As Chair and Vice Chair of the Committee on Government Affairs, Drs. Holter Chakrabarty and Hoggatt work with committee members and staff to help shape the Society’s advocacy agenda and assess the best mechanisms to advocate within Congress and federal agencies on issues such as funding for medical research, removing barriers to access to care, improving physician reimbursement, and supporting patients living with sickle cell disease. As always, ASH remains focused on the needs of the Society’s membership and continues to work in a bipartisan manner.

The 117th Congress, which officially begins on January 3, includes more than 60 freshmen lawmakers. While ASH will be reaching out to all of these newly elected officials to share hematology policy priorities, the Society also needs the help of ASH members who are constituents to build and maintain relationships with both new and returning senators and representatives. Dr. Holter Chakrabarty is one of many ASH members represented by a freshman lawmaker, and she has already reached out to her newly elected Congresswoman, Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK). “Incoming members create a great opportunity to introduce yourself and hematology, and to set yourself up as a resource. Creating a link with your House member is important early and consistently thereafter,” explained Dr. Holter Chakrabarty. “You want your representative to see you as an asset and to reach out for support when needed.”

There are many ways that ASH members can meet and introduce themselves to their elected officials, despite the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the cancellation of face-to-face meetings. Before the pandemic, ASH members often met their members of Congress at town hall events. However, because of ongoing social distancing requirements, most of these events have moved to “virtual town halls.” Dr. Hoggatt noted the importance of joining these events to make your voice heard, saying, “If your legislator has one of those, join in and check it out. Try to ask a question if you can. In some ways, this couldn’t be easier now; you can join the town hall in your favorite pair of sweats!”

In addition to scheduling meetings with your elected officials, you can also reach out to your representatives’ offices to let them know how you feel on a particular issue. Dr. Holter Chakrabarty said that any way you reach out is helpful. “I would suggest using all forms of interaction — phone calls, social media, email, and in person when it’s safe to do so.”

Dr. Hoggatt echoed using social media to establish a connection with your legislators and noted, “Every congressional member has multiple social media accounts. Follow your legislator to get up-to-date information on their priorities, and use the platforms to engage with your member on issues you care about, particularly those impacting hematology.” The ASH Grassroots Network — a group of more than 4,000 ASH members across the United States who advocate on behalf of hematology and their patients — has resources available to help hematologists build strong connections with policy makers. Dr. Holter Chakrabarty explained that the ASH Grassroots Network “has increased opportunities for virtual advocacy and has helped increase the visibility of ASH on the Hill despite the issues with COVID-19.” Dr. Hoggatt elaborated, citing recent examples such as the virtual “Advocacy 101” webinar that ASH hosted in September 2020 to help train ASH members to effectively communicate with their elected officials. “Going forward, I anticipate that our digital and virtual advocacy efforts will increase in scope and impact,” said Dr. Hoggatt.

To learn more about ASH advocacy and the Grassroots Network, visit the ASH Advocacy Center at Members of the ASH Grassroots Network receive action alerts and access to the monthly Advocacy Update with news and information on events happening in Washington, DC, that affect hematology. The ASH Advocacy Center has also been recently upgraded with new capabilities such as enhanced email outreach and Twitter functionality to make it simple to communicate with your members of Congress. To learn more about the Society’s policy priorities and tips to become a stronger advocate, access the ASH Advocacy Toolkit, which includes a recording of the “Advocacy 101” webinar and provides fact sheets and other resources for members to use in their advocacy in support of hematology. Dr. Holter Chakrabarty encourages ASH members to take advantage of all the resources available because as she put it, “Congress works for us, and we should make sure we tell them what we want!”