Earlier this month, I was offered the incredible opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. and participate in the 2019 You're The Cure Lobby Day with the American Heart Association! Advocates from around the nation gathered to speak to their elected officials about issues near and dear to their hearts (get it?), and I can honestly say the experience not only further ignited my passion for the AHA, but also stretched my comfort zones, expanded my networks, and helped me grow as a person.
With Arkansas advocate, fellow guest blogger & National Youth Advocate of the Year, Abigail Davis!
While in D.C., I worked closely with Mike Mores, the AHA Government Relations Director for Wyoming. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Wyoming, and according statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,001 people in Wyoming died as a result of heart disease in 2017. Additionally, 18.7% of Wyoming adults are current smokers- 1.6% above the national average (17.1%). Based on these risk factors, Mike and I felt that it was important to approach our legislators with 3 main asks from the AHA:
- Supporting increased medical research funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Given that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for Americans not only in Wyoming, but the entire nation, and that only 5% of the NIH’s annual budget supports life-saving heart disease research, we asked our legislators to continue commitment to cures by supporting a minimum $2.5 billion increase in research funding.
- Supporting legislation to protect our nation’s citizens from financially crippling surprise medical bills. These bills often arrive unexpectedly from receiving care from out-of-network providers, usually during emergency situations. Almost 60% of Americans have received one of these bills that was previously thought to be covered by their insurance, and the consequences can be financially devastating for them and their families. In the state of Wyoming, the issues of air ambulances and timely billing are a large component of this issue- especially when citizens don’t have the choice of how they will be transported during emergencies.
- Supporting the ban of flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, and menthol cigarettes. With over 15,000 different flavors of e-cigarettes alone offered on the market and targeted toward America’s youth, tobacco use nationwide rose by nearly 80% in high school students and 50% in middle school students from 2017 to 2018. These harmful products are specifically designed and marketed to appeal to young people with their fruit, candy, or menthol flavors so that they become easily addicted. Since my father was a former tobacco user, this topic was especially close to home for me! I have lobbied for changes in the tobacco industry at both the state and national levels since I became involved with the AHA nearly 3 years ago, and I’ve seen the horrific impact of the introduction of products like vape pens on my peers and younger generations. I strongly believe Congress must take action to eliminate what is becoming a national epidemic, and every state is responsible.
Meeting with Senator John Barrasso (bottom) and Senator Mike Enzi (top).
Thanks to great coordination efforts, we were able to meet personally with Senator John Barrasso, Senator Mike Enzi, and Representative Liz Cheney, as well as some of their staff, to discuss these issues. Overall, my first Lobby Day on Capitol Hill was a SUCCESS! I felt that our legislators were extremely open to dialogue and supportive of our asks, and I learned a lot about their previous work with similar topics and hot-button issues in our state, such as air ambulance regulations and timely billing. I also was able to do some phone interviews with a few radio stations back in Wyoming- so be listening for me on the playbacks of your favorite radio station in your hometown!
Phone interviews on Capitol Hill!
I am incredibly grateful to the AHA for this opportunity, and I hope you will join me in advocating for these causes in your communities. My experiences with Lobby Day at both the state and national level over the years have proven to me how much my voice as a constituent matters and stands out; and yours does too!
One of my largest reflections from this trip is that younger generations in particular have such an opportunity to let their voices be heard. My generation is full of leaders and change-makers who lobby, protest, and speak up for what they believe in when it comes to issues such as climate change and fundamental rights. Why not advocate for the health of ourselves and future generations by being aware of and taking responsibility for what we put into our bodies? Why not advocate to take down big tobacco and misleading marketing measures targeted at America’s youth?
It’s time for us to stand up not only for our world, but for ourselves. Even in a state as small as Wyoming, your voice has the potential to make a big impact. I encourage you to contact your legislators and representatives about these issues that you care about, and speak to them when you run into them in public. It’s a privilege to live in a state with lawmakers who are so involved in our communities (both Senator Barrasso and Senator Enzi are in Wyoming at least once a week, as well as our local representatives!), and we should not take that for granted.
Forever your Miss Wyoming 2017 and AHA Advocate,