Over the course of her 20-plus years in Washington, Melissa Bartlett has worked on nearly every kind of health policy issue, ranging from Medicare to prescription drugs. She draws on her experience with insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and two branches of government to help clients achieve their goals and navigate the legislative and regulatory landscape. We spoke with Melissa about her various roles and some great advice that’s proven helpful in her career.
What are some of the highlights of your career?
After graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law and doing a fellowship with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, I took a job as legislative counsel with the American Medical Group Association and then later with AHIP (which was then AAHP) in regulatory policy. Both of these positions served as good primers on health care policy and allowed me to really understand the healthcare ecosystem – how health care services are access by patients and how those providing services are ultimately paid for their services and all of the specific policy levers that are at play along the way. I then moved on to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Civil Rights, where I focused on implementation of the HIPAA privacy rule and issues pertaining to it. . In 2004, I left HHS and joined the House Energy and Commerce Committee staff as the Medicare counsel for Republicans, where I remained until 2010. The committee has enormous health care jurisdiction so while my main focus was on Medicare legislative and regulatory policies, throughout the years I also had the privilege to work on a variety of other health care issues concerning health insurance reforms, mental health parity, privacy, quality incentives and value-based payment reforms, health IT, and the reauthorization of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, to name a few. After I left the committee, I spent several years working as an in-house lobbyist for two drug companies and large health insurer before joining the Chamber Hill Strategies team.
How has advocacy changed since you first started your career? How has advocacy changed over the last 10 years?
You cannot discount the value of innovative technology and being able to effectively communicate with the Hill. When I started my career, one of the first things I got was a beeper, so if you had to reschedule a meeting, you had to leave a pager number. That over time evolved into the use of the Blackberry, which was first issued to me when I was first on the Hill. The way we’ve done business has changed to become so much more instantaneous, whether it’s emailing somebody documents, sending a calendar invitation, or sending a text message. The nature of the work has changed thanks to technology, and it will continue to evolve.
Within the last 10 years, I do think there has been a shift in appreciation in advocacy being more than just getting someone a meeting. In the past, people might have measured success in lobbying in terms of how many members and staff a lobbyist knows. Now, clients are more focused on wanting a more substantive relationship with their lobbyist in that they want the lobbyist to understand their business, understand risk and opportunities to hit strategic objectives, and to provide advice. The bar has shifted, and that’s a good thing.
What are some of the biggest challenges lobbyists and advocates face in 2021?
A return to a post-COVID normalcy, however that is defined, and adjusting to that new normal presents a challenge. Pre-COVID, we were meeting with people face-to-face in congressional offices, agency meeting rooms, and in the cafeterias in the House and Senate office buildings. Casual information-gathering as well as the more formalized lobbying has really changed. While offices and buildings continue to reopen, challenges remain, for instance, whether and when to pursue in-person meetings versus virtual meetings or calls. There are some benefits to the virtual meeting or call in terms of expediency and efficiency. So, I think navigating that return to normalcy will be the big challenge for 2021.
What’s some of the best advice you’ve received?
Take every meeting requested of you, and return every phone call, even if it’s not right away. No matter how busy you are, this town remembers. A lot of what we do is relies heavily on reputation and relationships. It’s critical to maintain a level of respect for your colleagues and to command that respect too. You may not get an answer right away, but you sure do appreciate when you hear back from someone. Fostering such respect can go a long way in serving as a trusted resource for colleagues, clients and the Hill.
What else should we know about you?
I’m a mother of a rising first grader and I’m a co-leader of a daisy troop. I play the piano, which I’ve been doing since second grade, and at one point, I wanted to study the piano in college and play professionally. I have a dog and a cat, both of whom I rescued. I like spending time with my family, and I value my roles as a mother, wife, sister, sister-in-law, and daughter.