AAPI takes its legislative agenda to Capitol Hill: Dozens of US Lawmakers Address AAPI Delegates

Ajay Ghosh

The powerful voice of the leaders and members of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), the largest ethnic medical organization in the United States, was heard on Capitol Hill early Thursday, April 12th at the annual Legislative Day. Addressed by dozens of lawmakers from both the parties, the event was forum for AAPI to have its voices heard on the corridors of power and giving them a voice in shaping the healthcare policies and programs of the nation.

In his welcome address, Dr. Gautam Samadder, President of AAPI, expressed his sincere gratitude and appreciation to AAPI delegates and the Congressmen “for taking the time out to come and support AAPI’s agenda at the national level, in our efforts to make our voices heard in the corridors of power. AAPI’s legislative day on Capitol Hill, addressed by dozens of US lawmakers from both the major parties, a recognition of AAPI’s growing influence and having its united voice heard in the corridors of power.”

AAPI Agenda for its 2018 Legislative day included, expressing support for the H.R. 3592 “The South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act of 2017,” providing for research and grants to improve the cardiovascular health care of South Asian Americans; Lowering the Cost of Prescription Drugs; Immigration Reform, enhancing H-1 and J-1 visas, Green Card that are used by many South Asian American physicians, playing an important role in providing critical health care across the country; Increased Residency Slots, help reducing the chronic physician shortage, urging legislation adding 15,000 more residency slots, which will help to train up to 45,000 more doctors in the next two decades; Medicare and Medicaid Reimbursements that have not kept up with the cost of care and the growing populations utilizing them; and, Tort Reform, to reduce the practice of defensive medicine, thus, bringing down the overall cost of health care, and limit the number of meritless lawsuits; and, discussing the disadvantages of Repeal of the Individual Mandate, especially, leading to patients drop their health care coverage and how will this impact premiums.

“I know you are hitting the Hill on a number of issues not the least of which is health care and your concerns about the direction of our country”, Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley of New York told a packed room of Indian-origin physicians in the Rayburn Building. “What really drives all of you is that you want to be able to carry out your profession in a noble way. At the same time, you want that respect which you deserve. More importantly, you want to save people’s lives, make the human condition better. That is incredibly admirable, something that is given short shrift”, he said.

Rep. Crowley assured, “I continue to work to increase the number of slots here in the United States” and spoke of the GME (Graduate Medical Education) Expansion Legislation which he introduced with Republican Congressman Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania, in 2017. The bill calls for an additional 3,000 residency positions for five consecutive years. “It is important that we increase the slots because we are going to need more doctors, more technicians, more physician assistants, not less”, Crowley said.

As Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce stated he “has worked very diligently to improving US-India relations”. The California Republican called for liberalizing changes in policy that create economic opportunity for everyone. Republican Congressman Steve Chabot who represents Cincinnati, Ohio, said, “The relationship between India and the US is, I believe, one of our most important. We are natural allies. We have so much more in common than differences”, he said.

Congressman Joe Wilson said, “I was not born in India, but I was born with an appreciation of the people of India. The lawmaker lauded the contributions of Indian-Americans, in particular Dino Teppara who has served as his chief-of-staff. Teppara, now a public affairs officer in the US Navy Reserve, has been working closely with AAPI leaders for the very successful Legislative Day on Capitol Hill.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, the first Hindu lawmaker to serve on Capitol Hill and current Democratic co-chair of the House India Caucus, pointed to how the relationship between “our two countries has progressed. It has only continued to grow stronger and stronger.” She acknowledged that “the H-1B visa issue is one of the biggest challenges facing the community” and lamented that a lot of people don’t understand the consequences of the backlog and continued effort to limit H-1B visas. “In Hawaii, we have a drastic shortage of physicians and it’s always difficult to get and retain doctors who can provide that care”, Gabbard told the AAPI delegates. “Your presence and your advocacy is very helpful as we try to construct substantive policy that best serves the American people”, she said.

Pramila Jayapal, the first ever Indian-American woman elected to the US House of Representatives, who had introduced ‘The South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act of 2017′ with her Republican colleague Joe Wilson of South Carolina to improve the cardiovascular health care of South Asian Americans, said, “It is a bill that can actually move, that helps educate our community because frankly, we can be a little flip about heart health.” Stressing that the community has incredibly high incidents of heart disease, she believed that being able to use a few resources from the federal government to emphasize and target the South Asian community is very important.  “I am going to continue to lift up health care for everyone”, she pledged. To AAPI leaders, she said, “Thank you for your incredible leadership, for your advocacy, for your friendship, for your support. It means so much to me. When I come here it feels like I am coming home”.

“I have seen Dr. Shivangi, Ramesh Kapur, Dr. Shah, Dr. Bharat Barai, knocking the halls of Congress before it was popular”, Congressman Ro Khanna said at the event. “Now, it is very trendy to be Indian-American. You get invited everywhere. Everyone wants to meet with you. That was not the case earlier. These folks have dedicated their lives to being a voice for our community. They have dedicated their skill at it”, he stated, adding he is “so proud of all the doctors” as they “are the ambassadors of the community” even in rural areas.

“Some of my favorite people in America are here in this room”, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi said, looking around a venue packed with his supporters. “There is only one reason that I was elected to the United States Congress and that reason is you”, he stressed. “You are a success in the greatest country the world has ever known: the United States. And you are the pride of one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known: India”, he said. Krishnamoorthi made a strong pitch for Indian-Americans to become even more engaged – to vote, volunteer on campaigns, run for political office. Referring to an adage he often repeats, ‘If you don’t have a seat on the table, you’re on the menu’, Krishnamoorthi added, “We will not be on the menu if we do the needful” by being engaged in public policy.

Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr., of New Jersey, co-founder of the House India Caucus, denounced the anti-immigrant fervor emanating from the White House. He referred to a bill he introduced with two other House Democrats which would prevent the ACA from being sabotaged by President Trump and Republicans in Congress. He explained that the legislation eliminates the cap on subsidies, increases the amount that is available to help people pay their premiums, and seeks to stabilize the market by having a reinsurance component to get more insurers and create more competition to lower prices. He was hopeful the bill will pass if Democrats win the House and Senate in the 2018 midterm elections. “We need to have a pathway to citizenship for H-1B and J-1 visa holders, and for the Dreamers”, he added.

Extolling AAPI members for their “incredible work ethic and strong family values”, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro, who had supporting pro-immigration bill H.R. 392 (Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017), said, “It is immigrants who have made America the great country that we are”. He was critical of the fact that in his home district in California, “we have 0.95 physicians for every 1,000 people, not even one physician for every 1,000 people”, he said. “The statewide average is 2.25 physicians. So, we are trying desperately, besides our Residency programs, to get a medical school in the San Joaquin Valley as part of the University of California system”. He highlighted the fact that between Bakersfield and Modesto in CA, there are over 900 Indian-American physicians, serving his district.

“We are blessed to have a great Indian-American community with physicians so well represented”, Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock of Virginia said. Referring to shortages in the whole medical field — doctors, physician assistants, nursing homes – the lawmaker told AAPI members, “As we are an aging population, we are facing all kinds of shortages and I know you are on the front lines of that. If we could work together, I would be delighted to”, she said. Regarding soaring pharmaceutical costs, Comstock mentioned she is part of a bipartisan group in the House called the Problem Solvers Caucus which, among other issues, is focused on bringing down drug prices.

Congressman Peter Roskam of Illinois, former Republican co-chair of the House India Caucus, spoke of the “enormous Indian diaspora in Chicago. Nearly every physician I meet is married to another Indian physician”, he quipped. “What is so interesting is how deeply connected and what a big leadership role these communities are playing in the Chicago area”, he said. The lawmaker, who chairs the subcommittee on health on the Ways and Means Committee, encouraged AAPI members to provide feedback from a medical point-of-view about the obstacles they face in caring for their patients.

Among other attendees at the AAPI event were: Republican Congressman Phil Roe of Tennessee, one of few physicians serving on Capitol Hill; Republican Congressman Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania; Republican Congressman Andy Barr of Kentucky; Maryland Delegate Aruna Miller (Democrat), currently running for Congress in the state’s sixth Congressional District; Jason Marino, Senior Assistant Director of Congressional Affairs at the American Medical Association; Dr. Naseem Shekhani, president-elect, Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA); and Nuala Moore, Associate Director of Government Relations at the American Thoracic Society.

“AAPI represents, the growing influence of doctors of Indian heritage is evident, as increasingly physicians of Indian origin hold critical positions in the healthcare, academic, research and administrative positions across the nation. With hard work, dedication, compassion, and skills, we have thus carved an enviable niche in the American medical community. AAPI’s role has come to be recognized as vital among members and among lawmakers,” Dr. Vinod Shah, AAPI’s Legislative Committee Chairman, said. 

Legislative Co-Chair Dr. Sampat Shivangi, said, “There are many issues affecting our community and the physicians across the nation. Now is the time to ensure our voices are heard on these vital issues. Additionally, those with good contacts with their own congressman, should reach out to his/her office and enlist their support on these issues dear to us.”

Dr. Naresh parikh, President-Elect of AAPI, said, “AAPI is a non-political umbrella organization which has nearly 90 local chapters, specialty societies and alumni organizations. Almost 10%-12% of medical students entering US schools are of Indian origin. AAPI represents the interests of over 60,000 physicians and 25,000 medical students and residents of Indian heritage in the United States. I am extremely happy that we have come together today to express our voices and as we all stand together to convey and communicate our concerns on this very special day to the lawmakers who have come to hear us and address our concerns.” The day began on Capitol Hill, and culminated at the Indian Embassy with a dinner and was addressed by the Indian Ambassador to the US and other senior officials. For more details on AAPI and its numerous initiatives, please visit: www.appiusa.org

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