CDA’s grassroots program helps members advocate for profession

To help members have an impact in their local communities and statewide, CDA has launched a revamped grassroots advocacy program.

Under the program, CDA organizes “Advocacy Days” designed specifically for individual components. Groups of approximately five dentists are selected from a component to either come to Sacramento or to take part in a regional advocacy day and meet with legislators in their home districts. 

This approach with a small group of participants allows for concentrated education and preparation on the current policy issues, background on the legislators they will be meeting with, and grassroots strategy in general. The program provides a unique opportunity for members to have in-depth discussions with their state legislators on critical public policy issues affecting dentistry.

“The new grassroots program provides a great learning opportunity for everyone,” said CDA President James Stephens, DDS. “The program allows members to inform legislators about the role dentists serve in our communities and lays the groundwork for future interaction with policymakers.” 

The revamped program kicked off last summer. Since then, there have been two Advocacy Days in Sacramento (for the San Fernando Valley Dental Society and the Orange County Dental Society) and one regional day in San Diego for the San Diego County Dental Society.

Robert Hanlon, DMD, CalDPAC chair and past chair of the CDA Government Affairs Council, said the experience is a unique one for dentists.

“Grassroots programs are designed to influence policymakers through the recruitment and mobilization of the local community. The most effective way to do this is to ensure that the local participants are both well-educated and passionate about the issues,” said Hanlon, who was with the San Diego component during the San Diego Regional Day last October. “Through this new grassroots advocacy approach, our members are doing an outstanding job of engaging and informing state legislators on important dental policy issues. The program will also help with the establishment and development of long-term relationships with legislators. There is a unique opportunity, for younger dentists in particular, to build relationships over the course of elected officials’ careers, especially with the recent change in term limits, that will allow many legislators to serve longer.” 

The Advocacy Days were timely over the last year as CDA is a leading member of the Californians Allied for Patient Protection (CAPP) coalition to prevent changes to provisions of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA). Trial lawyers are attempting to raise MICRA’s cap on noneconomic damages from $250,000 to $1.1 million, which would increase health care costs, reduce access to care and allow trial lawyers to make more in legal fees.

Dentists, through CDA’s grassroots advocacy program, were able to meet with legislators to discuss their concerns about any changes to the MICRA law, which has ensured dentists are protected from extreme liability exposure and skyrocketing premiums by its various provisions since 1975.

Even with the trial lawyers’ aggressive campaign in 2013 and the threat of a ballot measure that they are now pursuing, no bills were introduced in the Legislature last year that would raise the MICRA cap, demonstrating how effective the advocacy efforts have been from CDA and other members of the coalition working to protect MICRA.

“The efforts of dentists at the grassroots level across the state who deal with medical liability firsthand has helped solidify support for MICRA in the Capitol,” Stephens said.

Dentists who have participated in CDA’s grassroots program have enjoyed the opportunity to have their voices heard. 

William Chen, DDS, and president of the Orange County Dental Society, had little experience with legislative advocacy prior to participating in CDA's grassroots program in Sacramento last August.

“The experience was phenomenal. The legislators and their staff were very receptive and eager to listen,” Chen said. “What was most encouraging was them saying how they need to hear on-the-ground perspectives from their local constituents. Elected officials deal with so many different issues and they can’t be experts on all of them, so they need be informed by people who deal with these policy issues firsthand. We can make valuable contributions to the dental profession’s legislative advocacy efforts.”  

CDA’s grassroots program has five Advocacy Days in the planning phase for 2014, one of which will be in Sacramento with dental students from the UCLA School of Dentistry (CDA is taking the same grassroots approach with dental students). While there are five Advocacy Days planned, CDA is hoping to do even more than that in the coming year. There will be an important role for grassroots advocacy in 2014 on a number of critical issues, including funding for a state dental director, establishing a medical loss ratio for dental plans, ensuring sufficient dental coverage options in California’s new Health Benefits Exchange, the Dental Hygiene Committee sunset review and the MICRA ballot measure should it qualify.

For more information on the program and to participate in a future Advocacy Day, contact Todd Roberson at todd.roberson@cda.org or 916.554.4982.

Topics: Advocacy