More than 30 members of Congress attend the group’s Legislative Day in Washington, DC.
The American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) put on a formidable show of force in Washington, DC, Wednesday, highlighting its legislative priorities before more than 30 members of Congress from both parties.
Nearly a hundred AAPI members from all parts of the country attended the group’s Legislative Day, held at the Rayburn House Office Building. Besides some of AAPI’s healthcare-related bread-and-butter issues, the event also called to attention of the members of Congress hot-button topics, such as immigration and green card, and a spike in hate crime against Indian Americans and other minority groups.
Leaders of AAPI, which represents more than a hundred thousand physicians of Indian origin, told The American Bazaar that 30 members of the US House of Representatives and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who attended the event, were very receptive.
AAPI President Ajay K. Lodha told the Bazaar that the organization presented a “white paper,” listing its legislative priorities to the members of Congress.
“One of the main points in the white paper was increasing residency slots,” he said. “There is a shortage of doctors here in this country, and by increasing the residency slots, that can be addressed.”
The long wait for green cards for those AAPI members that are on H-1B visas is another issue the organization raised. “Some of these doctors have to wait for 15 to 16 years,” said Lodha, a primary care physician based in Jackson Heights, NY.
He added that the AAPI members present also pressed the members of Congress to address hate crimes against minorities.
“We had a very fruitful discussion and we are very hopeful that Congress will act on the issues raised in our white paper,” he said.
All four Indian American representatives — Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) and Pramila Jayapal — attended the event. Other key members who were present included Representatives Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Joe Wilson (R-SC), Joe Crowley (D-NY) and Grace Meng (D-NY).
“We listened to them,” Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), one of the first members of address the physicians Wednesday told The Bazaar.
Incidentally, the Hill event was held in the backdrop of a major Republican-led effort to repeal and replace the Obamacare.
Dr. Gautam Samadder, who will take over AAPI’s leadership rein from Lodha after the organization’s convention in Atlantic City next month, said the event was one of the best-attended legislative day events hosted by the group.
Samadder, who practices sleep medicine in Ohio, said the AAPI needs to constantly stay engaged with the legislators. “Our issues are not the same as they were when AAPI was formed,” he said. “Back then we were all mostly first generation Americans. Discrimination was one of our biggest issues. Now we have a significant percent of our membership that is from the second generation. We have a lot more issues before us.”
The residency slots issue is one such topic that didn’t exist in the early days AAPI’s existence.
Dr. Sampat Shivangi, who chairs AAPI’s Legislative Affairs Committee and was instrumental in organizing Wednesday’s event, said a number of US-born physicians who earn their medical degrees from overseas, in places such as the Caribbean, are finding it difficult to get residency slots.
Increasing the slots will solve their problems, he said.
Similarly, H-1B is another legislative issue that is new to the organization. Shivangi said, on his organization’s invitation, a few tech workers from the Washington State attended the event and aired their grievances over the visa program.
AAPI’s lobbying efforts Wednesday on some of the issues affecting the broader Indian American community and other immigrant groups is also a testament to its growth and reach. Being one of the oldest Indian American organizations, it’s also among the most influential, as was evident from the number of members of Congress who took time out of their busy schedule to address the group.
“We are a very powerful group, which is very cohesive, in terms of coming together and working on not just [physician issues], but issues impacting the Indian American community,” said Dr. Sudhir Sekhsaria, who was the Co-Chair of the Host Committee.
Sekhsaria, an allergist and immunologist based in the Washington, DC, area, said many other physicians issues were also raised during the AAPI members’ engagements on the Hill. “We are always concerned that hospitals in this country are buying every single physician practice,” he said. “The fact that they are incentivized to buy the physicians, it raises the cost of medicine dramatically.”
Later in the evening, Indian Deputy Chief of Mission Reenat Sandhu hosted a reception for the AAPI members at the embassy of India in Washington, DC.