A look at AAPI Legislative Day and my top 5 takeaways.
AAPI Legislative Day
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend the AAPI (American Association of Physicians of Indian origin) healthcare agenda legislative day in our nation’s capital. Here is a brief description of the May 3rd, 2017 event and the top 5 things I took away from the experience.
AAPI Legislative Day provided an opportunity for South Asian leaders in the healthcare community from across the nation to engage in a bi-partisan / non-partisan discussion about federal healthcare policy. Speakers from both sides of the aisle came out in droves to address and engage with the South Asian leaders. Their interest and accessibility was much appreciated by the audience, but also was quite understandable as studies show that approximately 1 in 7 healthcare encounters involves a South Asian physician provider.
The list of Congressmen and women that addressed the group included:
Pramila Jayapal (Washington)
Raja Krishnamoorthi (Illinois)
Henry Johnson (Georgia)
Judy Chu (New York)
Dr. Ami Bera (California)
Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii)
Joe Crowley (New York)
Gary Peters (Michigan)
Ro Khanna (California)
Jim Costa (California)
Donald Norcross (New Jersey)
Tom Suozzi (New York)
Grace Meng (New York)
Mark Takano (California)
Ameya Pawar (Alderman from Chicago and 2018 Illinois Candidate for Governor)
Mike Kelly (Pennsylvania)
Andy Barr (Kentucky)
Phil Gingrey (Georgia)
Amata Radewagen (American Samoa)
Dave Brat (Virginia)
Ed Royce (California)
Gregg Harper (Mississippi)
Joe Wilson (South Carolina)
Charlie Crist (Florida)
Steve Chabot (Ohio)
Phil Roe (Tennessee)
After the legislative discussions concluded, the evening festivities began - including a reception at the Indian Embassy, hosted by the Consul General. At the reception, Congresswoman Jayapal and Congressman Krishnamoorthi were honored. Each spoke passionately about the need for greater South Asian involvement in government, as well as spoke out against recent hate crimes. Chicago Alderman and 2018 candidate for Governor of Illinois, Ameya Pawar, also attended the reception. He addressed the group earlier in the day on the need to give the reigns of Illinois State Government back to the people and out of the hands of billionaire aristocrats.
Top 5 Takeaways
1. SOUTH ASIANS SHARE BIPARTISAN SUPPORT:
The India Caucus is the largest caucus in Congress. This is a big takeaway because what it means is that members of both parties can at least agree that good relations with South Asians, both abroad and domestically, should be a priority. The opportunity for our voices to be heard exists and we have a captive audience ready to engage us, but alas, we are not yet a politically active / vocal community.
This is changing however, as Dr. Ami Bera explained to the audience. Dr. Bera was the first South Asian in congress, and spoke with pride at the recent influx of other South Asian members of the House of Representatives including Congresswomen Jayapal & Gabbard as well as Congressmen Khanna & Krishnamoorthi. Dr. Bera encouraged those in attendance to pick up the mantle and continue to get involved in all facets of government.
If running for office is not for you, however, you can still reach out to your local Congressmen and women, as well as your State's Senators. For example, during our short trip, we were able to drop by Joaquin Castro’s office and briefly meet with the Congressman from Texas. Remember these elected officials work to serve their constituents and many are accessible through their local or DC offices.
2. BE HEARD:
Physicians are not really involved in the crafting of healthcare policy. Members of both parties repeatedly stressed that while healthcare is the single largest expenditure in the federal budget, and a hotly debated topic in Congress, they feel that physicians are often left out of the discussion. So to all you healthcare professionals out there….if you have something to say on our nation’s healthcare policies, contact your Congressmen and Senators ASAP because they need your voices to be heard. Right now you’re not at the table when the chips are on the table. That needs to change.
3. HEALTHCARE IS PARTISAN:
Healthcare is an unreasonably partisan issue. Though members of both parties addressed the group, the message was overwhelmingly diplomatic so as to not offend the room. Very little policy debates took place and what policy issues addressed were discussed were clearly partisan, with Republicans talking about the Obamacare (ACA) “disaster” and the Democrats discussing their opposition to the Republican AHCA. Democrats were pushed on tort reform and Republicans were pushed on pre-existing conditions, but those interactions were few and far between. If we are going to make progress on this matter, we need both sides to give up their sacred cows and have a real dialogue about compromise.
4. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER:
Do not confuse volume of dialogue with quality of knowledge. The Congressmen and women not only lamented the lack of physician involvement in crafting healthcare policy, but also pointed out that while almost everyone, including physicians, have an opinion on healthcare policy, very few actually understand what the current policies and procedures are. Few have little knowledge of what the actual statistics are with respect to reimbursement revenue, cost of care, and patient access to care. In short, it’s important to first know what you’re talking about before taking a stand on healthcare policy. Knowing is half the battle after all. (Go Joe!)
5. HR 392 and the VISA QUOTA:
One of the most important legislative items discussed at the event was the impact of immigration policy on healthcare. Specifically how H1 visa policies affect the ability for foreign born medical graduates to practice medicine in the United States. To this end, I encourage everyone to look into H.R. 392 and the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act of 2017, which aims to eliminate country quotas so skilled immigrants can have an opportunity to practice medicine in the US even if their country of origin has already maxed out the quota of visas issued to physicians from that country.
Outside of the programmed events for the weekday meetings, my takeaway was – if you have the time and opportunity – tour the Washington monuments at night. I spent a few hours between 11pm and 2am walking from monument to monument and taking in DC in the moonlight. It was electric. The White House along with the WWII, Lincoln, Korean War, MLK, and FDR Memorials as well as the Washington Monument were all well-lit and mesmerizing in the wee hours of the morning.
If you happen to be by the Indian Embassy, don’t miss the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Statue situated just outside. Simply beautiful.
Special thanks to AAPI and the organizers of their legislative day. It was a wonderful experience. As Gandhi Ji said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world”….so let your voices be heard and call your Congressman or Senator if there’s a policy matter weighing on your mind.