Each year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) brings patient spokespeople and advocates from across the nation to Congress to help advance policies to improve the lives of the community it serves. Normally dubbed a “fly-in” because advocates typically travel from around the country to Washington, D.C., this year’s meetings were held via Zoom due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With a focus on the dire need to fix the nation’s health disparities gap, AAFA appropriately themed this year’s meetings “Zoom-In on Health Equity.”

Community advocates and AAFA leadership shared the impact asthma and allergies have on all of our lives, including the devastating toll of racial and ethnic disparities with their representatives and senators. This year AAFA is asking Congress to support legislation that continues to improve research, prevention, treatment, and access to care to save lives and promote health equity.

AAFA provided a bi-partisan group of elected officials with 19 different public policy recommendations from its solutions-based Asthma Disparities in America: A Roadmap to Reducing Burden on Racial and Ethnic Minorities report. Community advocates and members of AAFA’s leadership team including staff, board members, and regional chapter representatives also encouraged Congressional members to support four specific legislative and FY22 funding priorities. These include:

• $35 million appropriation for the National Asthma Control Program (NACP)
• The Elijah E. Cummings Family Asthma Act
• The Improving Social Determinants of Health Act (S. 104/H.R. 379)
• The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act (S. 346/ H.R. 959)

Black Americans remain 3 times more likely to die from asthma and 5 times more likely to be treated in emergency rooms compared to white Americans. The difference in rates among racial groups is similar for food allergies. Black children are 7% more likely to have food allergies overall compared to white children. Pacific Islander, Native Hawaiian and Asian children are 25% more likely to have food allergies. Black children with food allergies are also more likely to die from anaphylaxis than white children with food allergies.

As AAFA advocate Valerie Vison of Minnesota shared in meetings with staffers from her two Senate offices, “These statistics are and should be startling.” Valerie’s husband, Jordan Vison, died from asthma in July of 2020 at the age of 30. Learning he had a greater chance of death as a Black American, Valerie honors his life by joining other advocates in raising awareness.

“AAFA’s policy recommendations along with the funding and legislative action we’re urging Congress to take, play critical roles in unburdening Americans experiencing the worst health outcomes at a disproportionate rate. Promoting racial equity in asthma and allergy care requires rebuilding and creating new systems,” said Kenneth Mendez, CEO and president of AAFA. “We must include health considerations and equitable solutions in all policy-making decisions to make real and lasting change. When we’re able to make a difference in prioritizing equal access to prevention, treatment and cure across disease categories everyone benefits.”

“Making these policy moves and passing this legislation is the right thing to do. In addition to the painful human cost, structural racism also has a financial impact,” said Jenna Riemenschneider, AAFA’s director of advocacy. “Health disparities not only have an impact on affected groups but also limit the overall quality of health care for the entire population, leading to avoidable costs to the health care system. Eliminating health disparities by 2050 would save the nation more than $230 billion in direct and indirect costs.”

AAFA and its community coalition of advocates met with top legislators throughout the week of April 26th, 2021 wrapping its sessions with the office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. AAFA is also working closely with Congressional members already leading the way on legislation designed to address the impact of structural and systemic racism to better protect people living with asthma and allergies. This series of virtual Capitol Hill meetings closed out National Minority Health Month and served as a kick-off to National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month in May.

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