Rep. Bera, calls for more physicians’ representation on Capitol Hill

From left, Drs. Sreeni Gangasani(2019 Convention chair), AAPI vice president Dr. Sudhakar Jonnalagadda, Dr. Sampat Shivangi, AAPI Legislative Affairs co-chair, Dr. Ami Bera, AAPI president Dr. Naresh Parikh and Dr. Vinod 'Vinny' Shah, AAPI Legislative Affairs chair, at the AAPI legislative conference on Capitol Hill on April 30.

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Three-term Congressman, Dr. Amerish ‘Ami’ Bera (D.-Calif.), the first physician from the community elected to the U.S. Congress, believes that it’s imperative “for us to get more physician representation in Congress.”

“We know as physicians, healthcare in changing, and … administrative burden, the paperwork, the prior authorizations, etc., are continuing to crowd out your ability actually to do what you were trained to do—to take care of patients,” he said in remarks to the AAPI legislative conference on Capitol Hill on April 30.

Bera, in providing a laundry list of the issues he and his colleagues were working on “in a bipartisan way” to alleviate the concerns of physicians, included “the issue of prior authorization, which really has gotten out of control –it’s really not adding any value to patient care but obstructing patient care—with now everyday routine practice of medicine is forced to go through this extra paperwork.”

He recalled that “we took the lead in the last Congress and we will be working with Republican members in the Ways and Means Committee and will be introducing legislation very soon and there’s a reasonable chance we will get that legislation passed and reduce the regulatory burden.”

Bera acknowledged that the “issue of surprise billing,” was another bane of physicians, “we are finding some bipartisan support on,” and assailed that “from the health insurance perspective, they like to push that issue between hospitals and doctors. (But) We like to obviously take the patients out of this, but we don’t think that this should be a fight between hospitals and the doctors’ and we certainly don’t think the patients should be the ones to suffer.”

“And then, we also have to think about the next generation of physicians because the workforce issue is ahead of us, especially if we find a way to bring additional patients into the system of care,” he added.

More broadly, he noted that as a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he believed that AAPI “and the members of the Indian American physicians community can take a central role as we continue to strengthen the U.S.-India relationship in many difference areas.”

Bera said that especially in the defense and strategic side, the relationship was “thriving,” and noted that since India was now in the throes of an election, the U.S. “has stepped back a little bit.”

“But once that election is resolved in a month or so, we hope to introduce legislation to really elevate and codify the U.S.-India relationship to enhance he economic and strategic partnership,” he said as he was convinced that these two democracies “can really help us define the 21st century.”

Bera said domestically too, he was also taking the lead of working with the Indian American community in building stronger relationships between the Jewish American diaspora and the Indian American diaspora “as there are a lot of shared values and we think the politics are important as well.”

“There are doctors in both communities and if we can amplify on some of that common ground, including the political strength of the Jewish American community and the Indian American community” and build a cohesive and concerted infrastructure, it would necessarily be a win-win coalition, he said.

Bera said, “Obviously, this can lead to a stronger tri-lateral relationship between the U.S., India and Israel, and that’s something I’d love to work with AAPI on as we start to look at areas like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, South Florida, Chicago, where you have large Indian American communities and large Jewish American communities, and really try to build that infrastructure.”

Earlier, Bera told the scores of physicians in attendance that “in this world, I really am a doctor and synonymous with this organization as a child of parents who immigrated from Gujarat in the 1970s.”

Speaking on the “tremendous strides” the Indian Americans have made “in a relatively short period of time,” he noted, “We are about one percent of the (U.S.) population, but last I checked, we are 8 percent of all physicians and surgeons in America.”

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi(D.-Ill.), lauded the AAPI for its “lobby day” on Capitol Hill “to advocate for causes near and dear to all Americans—not just Indian Americans but all Americans.”

He noted that “from a public policy standpoint, you folks are incredibly influential people and I hope that you know that people very much respect your opinions, because quite frankly, you are on the frontlines of the healthcare system and so, naturally we look to you for guidance and wisdom on the issues of the day.”

Krishnamoorthi, whose wife Priya Krishnamoorthi, is an anesthesiologist, said, “I am very aware of the issues that affect you each day, and quite frankly, I care very much about hearing your thoughts and opinions because I think sometimes that physicians are not here as much as we would like them to be here to advocate for policy causes with regard to health care.”

He said that “I want you to know that the fact that you touch the lives of 30 percent of Americans –30 percent of Americans see an Indian American physician every single day, you number almost one out of seven physicians in the entire country—the fact that you are here is so important because you have real life experiences with the health care system. That’s so crucial.”

Krishnamoorthi, who is on the House Oversight Committee, which has a broad mandate including drug prescription prices, urged AAPI “to continue to step up your engagement in the civic life of our country and that includes running for office.”

“As physicians you have a special insight into healthcare, which is probably one of the top two or three issues I hear about every single day, and I say to you, think about the choices that you have with regard to perhaps running for office in your local community,” he said.

Krishnamoorthi reiterated, “Let’s make sure that we have more health care voices at the table—we need more representatives at every single level of government, so please think about it.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D.-Hawaii), who was not on the roster of speakers but was received with a standing ovation when she made a surprise entrance, said that two weeks during the Easter recess as she traversed the country on her presidential quest, “hearing from folks, what is on the top of their minds is healthcare—healthcare is the number one issue that people are most concerned with.”

“So, I want to recognize AAPI’s leadership and great contribution to continuing to bring this conversation to the forefront—to bring your experiences here to Washington to help us lawmakers make those informed decisions on how we can improve the delivery of healthcare in this country,” she said.

Gabbard, the first Hindu American elected to the U.S. Congress, who is a member of the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees, emphasizing the importance of AAPI’s advocacy on Capitol Hill, said that “we recognize both in our personal lives, in your work everyday and here in Washington, that our health care system is still broken.”

Gabbard reiterated her debt of gratitude to Indian American physicians, appreciating the “caregiving that you provide everyday to people in this country, who need it the most.”

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