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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 6:31 am | Fair 50º


Capps Takes Federal Health-Care Law to Heart

A year after the bill was signed into law, the debate over reform is far from over — and the congresswoman is staying true to her convictions

[Noozhawk’s note: Noozhawk reporter Giana Magnoli spent a week in Washington, D.C., and sat down with Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, to discuss the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Commerce and Energy Committee, including the health subcommittee of which Capps is a member, has been closely examining the long-term economic and employment impacts. Republican members have challenged the Congressional Budget Office’s cost estimates and subsequent hearings have focused on those inquiries, with witnesses called for either side to take part in informational panels. Magnoli sat in on a portion of the March 23 hearing at which the CBO director and chief actuary for Medicare responded to questions.]

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law a year and two weeks ago, but the fight over health care is far from over.

As Texas Democrat Rep. Charles Gonzalez said of the health-care reform law, “we were in the majority — we made it a priority.”

The November election brought a new majority to the House of Representatives, and Republicans advocated for the Repealing of the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act, which passed the House in January.

Recently, the House has held hearings to examine impacts on the budget and employment with estimates from the Congressional Budget Office and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, is a fervent supporter of the Affordable Care Act. She delivered a portion of the Democrats’ opening statement at the March 23 House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing and said the act is the largest deficit-reducing bill Congress passed in the past decade and that claims to the contrary are “fabrications.”

Members of both parties questioned CBO director Doug Elmendorf and Medicare chief actuary Rick Foster while making less-than-discreet jabs at the other side of the aisle.

Elmendorf said the Affordable Care Act is estimated to reduce the federal budget by $210 billion from 2012 to 2021. Most of the act’s implementation begins in 2014 with the creation of federal exchanges for health insurance.

The CBO’s estimates are “middle of the road” projections that assume the act will be implemented in its current form, he said. The numbers are unchanged since research in February, but given the “magnitude” of the deficit reduction, he said he would be surprised if the result were any different today.

Foster said a drop in formal coverage — perhaps from employers avoiding going over the mandated 50-employee threshold to provide coverage — could send more people, especially low-income residents, to the federal exchanges.

A memo from the majority’s staff sent to the committee included the possibility of losing 800,000 jobs through implementing the act and uncertainty of the impacts to the economy and Medicare especially.

The topic was fiercely debated along the Central Coast before the act was signed, and several forums and meetings were held by local organizations. Capps’ district stretches from the Monterey-San Luis Obispo County line through Oxnard, and she held informational meetings in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura in September 2009. Santa Barbara’s event admitted only 200 people, which left hundreds of queued-up people out of the discussion.

On the anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act, Capps hosted birthday parties of sorts throughout the district at senior living facilities and CenCal, and held a rally in Oxnard. The first year’s implementation in California includes allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26, the Patient’s Bill of Rights and changing eligibility of children with pre-existing conditions.

In her new office in the Rayburn Building on Independence Avenue in Washington, D.C., Capps talked with Noozhawk about why she believes in the Affordable Care Act so much.

Capps said that at Wednesday’s hearing, Democrats wanted to get the CBO director on the record “over and over again” saying the act will save jobs and taxpayer dollars, and repealing it would do the opposite. Like the others, Capps doesn’t mince words when talking about the opposition, saying Republicans haven’t offered a viable alternative.

“The parts of the bill that would reduce the deficit are the parts they want to cut, so there’s clearly an ulterior motive,” she said, adding that the U.S. Senate wasn’t going to move forward on the repeal bill so now the opposition is trying to defund the Patient Protection Act. “It’s so ridiculous. When I’m home in the district … it comes back to me again how much pain and suffering there is from the economy in our area with foreclosures, with people not being able to find jobs, with people out of work so long they don’t even look any longer and that’s what we should be addressing with this.

“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle: If you take out one piece, it begins to crumble. Or I guess a better analogy would be a LEGO building. You know, if you pull out a bottom piece of it, it begins to fall down because one piece is based on another. Certain parts of it, yes, probably could be eliminated, but to have health care be affordable for everyone, you have to have something like what we did.”

She said constituents want a private delivery system, and that’s not changing, but the challenge is to make insurance affordable and accessible for everyone.

“I’ve been the first one to say nothing we do here is absolutely perfect — this is a lot of what will be perfected over time as we see parts of it that need to be changed — but in the meantime, we’re not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” she said. “Each stakeholder is going to, in their minds, give something in order that the big picture can gain something.”

Click here to read the full, 906-page text of the Affordable Care Act. Click here to read the background memo sent to the health subcommittee by the Republican majority’s staff.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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