Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 10:44 pm | Fair 66º


Capps Talks Health Care at Santa Barbara Town Hall

Lawmaker speaks first with the media then with constituents about federal reform legislation

In a packed and sweltering room at First United Methodist Church in Santa Barbara, Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, talked with about 200 citizens Wednesday evening in the first town-hall forum she has held on health care during her monthlong break from Congress.

After a series of town-hall meetings on the issue were held by local organizations last month, many people wondered when Capps would step up and host a discussion about the federal health-care reform legislation, America’s Affordable Health Choices Act (House Resolution 3200).

Capps talked with the media for about five minutes before the meeting, but was evasive about why a forum had not been held earlier, and at times bordered on accusatory.

“It’s interesting that it isn’t until those opposed to the bill came forward that it ever was considered a topic for the media,” she told reporters.

She called health care her “life’s work” as a former nurse, and said she had met with people at Cabrillo and Isla Vista clinics about the legislation. “All of these have had press advisories,” she said, and reminded the media about a health-care forum held a year ago in the church hosted by the Santa Barbara Clergy Association.

“We had a very lively, good discussion, with a lot of give and take,” she said. “There was no press here.”

When reporters pressed further about why she hadn’t hosted a town hall until Wednesday, Capps shot back that it wasn’t the first town hall she has had.

She said she has held “tele-town meetings” with various constituents that weren’t privy to media coverage. “I haven’t participated in the last three or four meetings because I wasn’t available,” she said. “I’m here tonight. ... This is the time I believe it’s important to engage in this topic.”

Capps said she’ll be in San Luis Obispo for a town hall on Thursday night, and on Friday she’ll hold one in Ventura.

As attendants were allowed into the church, they were required to hand over signs and flags, and the 210-capacity room filled slowly. About 50 people were turned away, according to a Santa Barbara police officer working the door, and Capps reminded the audience that the event would be broadcast on public access television and her Web site. Planet Santa Barbara will have the video posted later Friday and a link will be posted on Noozhawk. Click here for a related story.

Former Santa Barbara Mayor Hal Conklin moderated the event and warned the audience to abide by the church’s code of conduct posted on the wall. A number of police officers stood by to maintain order, although things never got entirely out of hand.

Capps started the meeting by acknowledging that health care is a complicated topic. “We certainly don’t agree on everything, but I believe in this bill,” she said. “One thing we can all agree upon is that the system cannot continue the way it is.”

Capps proceeded into a series of PowerPoint slides, explaining what the legislation would mean for the public, should it pass, and asserting that medical debt is the No. 1 reason people file bankruptcy.

She reassured the audience that those who have insurance could keep their plans, and that the bill would help lower the cost.

If people are not provided health insurance through their employers, a national health-care exchange would be established in 2013 and function basically as a “market,” she said, where people could purchase health insurance according to their needs and budgets. Administered by an independent commission, participants could choose from a public or private plan, “and the government will provide subsidies to help some people afford this insurance.”

The absolute minimum benefits that the plans would be required to provide are services such as hospitalization, maternity care and mental health care. There would be no co-pays for preventive care, an effort to help keep people out of the hospital, and no denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Audience members listen intently during Wednesday's forum with Rep. Lois Capps.
Audience members listen intently during Wednesday’s forum with Rep. Lois Capps. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Capps said that requiring health insurance would be mandatory, like requiring car insurance.

She also said the bill would not hurt small businesses, many of which can’t afford to give their employees insurance. A tax credit to help small businesses with fewer than 25 employees would be provided, and small businesses with payrolls of less than $500,000 would be exempt from the requirement to provide insurance.

The wealthiest 1.2 percent of Americans can expect a surcharge, but 96 percent of small-business owners would never fall into that category, she said.

Capps also used her time at the podium to dispel “misinformation,” assuring the audience that no one would be forced to purchase the public option.

There is a provision that would reimburse doctors who talk with patients about end-of-life care if the patient wants it, she said. “Personally, I believe these are important conversations that patients and their families should have with their doctors,” she said. “It’s simply an option.”

She also said the bill would not extend benefits to people who are undocumented.

How the government would pay for the bill seemed to be of great interest to the crowd.

“The bill itself is deficit neutral,” Capps told them, eliciting murmurs.

The legislation is designed to make Medicare and Medicaid more efficient, saving $500 billion in the next 10 years and fully supplementing the plan, according to Capps. Closing loopholes in offshore tax shelters also would help, she said.

“We’re also going to charge a surcharge on the highest 1.2 percent of earners,” she said, prompting mumbled cries of “Tax! Tax!” throughout the audience.

A slew of questions were submitted on cards from the audience. One asked why the country wouldn’t consider a single-payer system like many other industrialized countries. The question was met with equal rancor and applause.

“We are not ready for such a major change from the system we now have,” Capps said. “We need comprehensive health-care reform, and we need a bill that can be passed. ... The question is what’s practical.”

Another question was asked about the speed at which the bill was making its way through Congress.

“What is the hurry?” someone yelled during the question.

“Because we have only been waiting for 60 years,” Capps said to resulting cheers and boos. “The cost of inaction is too great.”

When Congress returns to work next week, the legislation will go to the floor of the House for debate. The Senate also will move to pass a bill, which then must be reconciled with the House version.

“Hopefully, we’ll have a bill to put on the president’s desk before the end of this year,” Capps said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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