2nd Annual State Asian Pacific American Legislative Advocacy Day

Posted on June 17, 2011


On May 25, 2011, more than 60 New Yorkers representing over 20 organizations visited legislators in Albany as part of the 2nd Annual State Asian Pacific American Legislative Advocacy Day. I had the privilege of participating as a B Free CEED intern, joining others passionate about helping Asian American communities in voicing concerns and recommendations to key policymakers with large Asian American populations in their districts.

First, Project CHARGE debriefed all of us about the state of Asian America in New York City, as well as major issues in the recent Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act important to our communities. I learned that Asians now comprise over 12% of the population of New York City according to the most recent census data (to learn more, see 12% and growing coalition), and total over 1 million – more than the entire population of San Francisco.  However, despite such a sizeable population, Asian Americans receive a disproportionally small percentage of resources.  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 greatly expanded access to health care to the uninsured and created insurance exchanges. Our goals for Advocacy Day were to make sure that Asian Americans could participate meaningfully and benefit equally from these healthcare policy changes.

With others from organizations such as Coalition for Asian American Children and Families and Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, I visited staffers for Senator Tom Duane and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried. I have never participated in any sort of political advocacy activities before, but fortunately, Project CHARGE prepared us well with facts and talking points. In teams of 4-5 people, we presented the representatives with the following “asks” and recommendations:

  1. Meaningful participation of Asian American/Pacific Islander (API) communities in the newly created insurance exchanges. This includes targeted outreach campaigns about these exchanges and the translation of materials into the most common Asian languages, similar to what Social Security currently does.
  2. Involvement of API-serving community-based organizations in the outreach and education about health care reform. These organizations know the communities the best, and already have the networks to reach these “hard to reach” populations.
  3. Accurate data collection on APIs. Lack of disaggregated data and inconsistent categorization of Asian Americans has been a longstanding problem plaguing research for this population. Data on smaller API groups is lacking because these groups are often not distinguished and are masked by larger Asian groups. Also, with differing definitions of Asian American groups, it is hard to compare data across research studies. Therefore, as a first step towards consistency and disaggregation of data, we recommended that the data collection component of the new legislation use the same racial/ethnic categorizations as those used in the U.S. Census.
  4. Streamlined forms, and the same identification requirements as Medicaid, in order to make the insurance application process as simple and understandable for APIs as possible.

In addition, we also encouraged our representatives to make the passage of a health insurance exchange bill a top priority – the end of May was a nervous time, because Cuomo hadn’t presented anything yet, and the bill had to be passed by the end of that session (in June) or NY would have lost its federal funding to create the exchanges.

Both Assemblyman Gottfried and Senator Duane are very knowledgeable and supportive of health access issues, and their staffers were receptive to what we had to say.  Assemblyman Gottfried is the Chair of the Health Committee and has a long history for advocating for health access for low-income populations.  Senator Duane used to be Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Health before Republicans took control of the Senate, and has been key in passing legislation surrounding LGBT rights, HIV/AIDS, and women’s reproductive rights.

Staffers assured us that the creation of insurance exchange legislation before the deadline was a top priority, and that they would definitely support it once Governor Cuomo submitted his draft.  (Cuomo  actually just submitted his proposal last week).  They also confirmed Gottfried and Duane’s support of API communities and issues of language access.  Recently, Gottfried sponsored bill A7342 while Duane co-sponsored bill S5000.  These bills standardize prescription drug labels and require translation services at pharmacies.  Given the high prevalence of limited English proficiency in API communities, these legislative initiatives are very relevant for APIs, and will hopefully reduce medical errors and make pharmacies more accessible for APIs.

Over all, Advocacy day was a very positive experience for me.  The staffers of the legislators that we visited were friendly, confirmed their legislator’s commitment to the issues/needs that we were highlighting, and took notes and were receptive to our specific recommendations for the insurance exchange legislation.  I am excited to see what the final piece of legislation looks like, and what it will mean for API communities.  On a personal level, I was nervous about the idea of talking to legislators and had no experience in this area, but these are issues that I am passionate about.  It felt great to tell people with the ability to change the system about what we see on the front lines of our communities, and to voice the stories of Asian Americans who are suffering because of the broken system.  I also met lots of really awesome people from many API-serving organizations throughout the city who are passionate and doing great work.  Policy advocacy is incredibly important to both Asian Americans and public health advocates – think big.


–posted by Serena C.