The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), the largest ethnic organization of physicians in the country, spent a day lobbying on Capitol Hill April 30, during their annual Legislative Day.
The organization which says it represents 100,000 physicians of Indian origin in the United States, accounting for nine percent of American doctors and physicians, discussed its major concerns with leading Congressmen and women from both sides of the aisle at the event held at the Rayburn House Office Building.
Among the lawmakers who came and addressed AAPI delegates, listened to their concerns, and extended their support, were House Majority Leader, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Ami Bera, (D-CA); Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, (D-Illinois); Rep. Tulasi Gabbard (D-HAWAI) , Rep. Michael Guest (R-MS); Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC); Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ); Rep. Phil Roe, MD (R-TN); Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD); Rep. Andy Harris, MD (R-MD).
A White Paper outlining AAPI’s concerns was submitted to lawmakers Some of the issues outlined in the White Paper included – increased residency slots, immigration reform, Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, tort reform, repeal of the Individual Mandate, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and the South Asian Heart Health Awareness and Research Act of 2017.
Dr. Naresh Parikh, president of AAPI, stressed the importance of young physicians in AAPI, who are the “future of AAPI.”
“We are pleased with the enormous turnout of both AAPI members and the showing of bipartisan members of Congress at this year’s Legislative Day,” Dr. Parikh is quoted saying in the press release,
The AAPI Legislative Chair, Dr. Vinod K. Shah, said, “AAPI is once again in the forefront in bringing many burning health care issues facing the community at large and bringing this to the Capitol and to the US Congress.” Dr. Shah also dwelt on U.S.-India relations, saying, “Each of us, as part of AAPI, the largest ethnic organization, representing over 8,0000 Indian American Physicians have a unique role to play in strengthening the relationship between India, the largest democracy and the US, the greatest democracy in the world.” He also shared his own experience of serving in a remote region 50 years ago, and now managing a series of large practices serving millions of people in Maryland.
“This immensely successful event, including our partnership with the Indian Embassy, has showcased AAPI’s strength relationship building and maintaining ties with our elected officials,” said AAPI Legislative Co-Chair, Dr. Sampat Shivangi. “AAPI contributions in issues like lowering drug costs, strong advocacy on Immigration reforms, especially for physicians working in rural areas of the US and their long decades of waiting in acquiring Green Cards,” he added, also noting that he raised the issue of U.S.-India trade relations and President Trump’s labeling of India as ‘King of Tariffs” about which he said there was a need to raise public awareness.
In his keynote address, India’s Ambassador to the U.S., Harsh Vardhan Shringla, praised AAPI’s lobbying efforts on some of the issues affecting the broader Indian-American community and other immigrant groups and noted that AAPI’s importance was evident from the number of members of Congress who took time out of their busy schedule to address the group.
“I believe all of you will have an important role to play in contributing to this. All of you in a sense are permanent Ambassadors here. You have an understanding of the US. You have an understanding of India and Indian society. So based on this understanding and the network that you have you will be in a position to take forward this relationship in different areas,” Ambassador Shringla said.
Also present was Jason Marino, senior assistant director of Congressional Affairs at the American Medical Association, who emphasized the need for more collaborative efforts between AAPI and AMA to have greater voice in healthcare policy making efforts on Capitol Hill.
In a detailed Report on Green Card delays affecting Indian American physicians, the Green Card Backlog Task Force of AAPI, pointed out that there are more than 10,000 physicians waiting for the Green Card for decades.
AAPI members would like to see the Green Card backlog addressed, which the organization says, has adversely impacted the Indian American community. They stressed the need for bipartisan support to pass the Bill S-948 that will provide Green Cards to those serving in America’s under-served and rural communities.
The measure has garnered support from leading members of the Congress and seeks to remove the 7 percent cap on Green Cards on every country regardless of their size. It “will address many of the concerns facing the Indian American community,” AAPI said in its list of demands.
The bipartisan members of Congress discussed ways to reform health care delivery, to ensure its cost-effectiveness, and the negative effects of defensive medicine, which has driven up the cost of health care. AAPI members told the gathering of both Republican and Democratic congressmen how important it was to increase the number of residency positions to address the upcoming physician shortage.
According to AAPI, there is an ongoing physician shortage, which affects the quality of care provided to American patients. There are patients who face lengthy delays in various specialties, a situation which will worsen over time. Legislation was introduced in previous sessions of Congress that would add 15,000 residency slots, training up to 45,000 more physicians, AAPI points out in its White Paper.
“By adding more residency positions today, Congress can train more physicians to treat patients in the future,” AAPI stated.
Rep. Steny Hoyer underscored the need for reforming the entire immigration process and make it equitable and fair. “We need to deal with the issue of H-1B and J-1 visas” and expand opportunities for highly skilled foreign workers and students, he told the gathering. “I still believe and always will that the United States will continue to grow. We need the best, the brightest and the bravest”, he said.
About India-US relations, Hoyer, affirmed, “I believe it is the most important alliance of this century. We are in the second decade and we have seen incredible progress. I know that will continue”, he said referring to shared values including a dedication to the rule of law and democracy.
Congressman Dr. Bera, and Rep. Krishnamoorthi, also addressed the gathering, noting that the physicians of Indian origin were a source of guidance on healthcare policy and programs.
Indian-American physicians were urged to run for office to be at the table for policy discussions affecting health care.
“It took less than a decade to have four Indian Americans in the US Congress,” Bera noted.
Rep. Joe Wilson, D-SC, shared his long association with India, praising the largest democracy and endorsing AAPI’s demand for more H1/J1 visas. “We need more Doctors to serve our patients.”
Rep. Dan Taylor from Texas lauded the fast growing Indian community in Texas and was appreciative of the contributions of Indian Americans.
Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, spoke about the large number of Indian Americans, 353,000, in his home state, New Jersey, which is the 3rd highest in the nation, among whom 120,000 are in his district. He offered whole hearted support for AAPI’s demand for increased residency slots with no cap on country-based Green Card.
Rep. Andy Barr from Kentucky said physician shortage in rural areas is acute. “We need to come together on Green Card/J1-H1 Visas based on skills.”
Rep. Sarbanes said, “I want to salute AAPI for your advocacy. No one rivals you in medicine. Healthcare remains a central to public policy and is challenging. Need to strengthen ACA. Your presence makes a huge difference.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, the current Democratic co-chair of the House India Caucus, told the AAPI gathering, “It’s been wonderful to see over the almost six years that I’ve been here in Congress how the relationship between our two countries has progressed. It has only continued to grow stronger and stronger. The commitment to continuing that momentum exists between both Democratic and Republican members of Congress and we’ve seen it cross between a Democratic administration and now a Republican administration,” she said.
Several others spoke at the gathering.