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Saturday, March 23 , 2019, 6:52 am | Fair 50º


Capps Talks with Noozhawk About Health Care

She offers her thoughts on Obama's speech and the reform legislation working its way through Congress

[Noozhawk’s note: We’ll have an update next week and, we expect, answers to the questions our readers submitted. Click here for the list of your questions. Thank you for your participation.]

President Barack Obama delivered a health-care speech to the nation Wednesday, and whether wary Americans and a divided Congress will buy his ideas remains to be seen. Noozhawk used the occasion to talk about health care with 23rd District Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, who said she thought Obama’s speech was timely and that he was delivering on the platform that got him elected in the first place.

“I think we made enormous progress last night,” Capps told Noozhawk during an exclusive telephone interview Thursday morning. “The president went through the bill we passed in my committee.”

Capps, who held a town hall in Santa Barbara about a week ago to discuss the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act, fleshed out some of the concepts she presented to the public that night.

Reflecting on Obama’s speech, she acknowledged the magnitude of tackling health-care reform, even while the economy is just now showing signs of recovery.

“There’s a lot on our plate,” she said, adding that while the economy is still reeling, addressing health care now is important — and that the two are more symbiotic than people think.

She said putting people to work in health care will be an infusion of growth as more people are able to get insurance, and that if everyone is insured, the demand for nurses, doctors and a whole range of health-care professionals could increase dramatically.

“Health care is the job creator that has not dipped,” Capps said. “This is a growing field. That’s an area we want to jump-start.”

She also said it would be incredibly costly not to engage in reform.

Capps is seeking numbers from the Congressional Budget Office on what it would cost to maintain the status quo in health care, but has been unsuccessful in getting such data so far. She said it’s her “gut feeling” that the system is costing more than reform would. She also said the bill will help Medicare, which the CBO estimates would save $500 billion in the next 10 years.

One of the extreme cases of Medicare mismanagement that Capps cited is with the Medicare Modernization Act. “It was designed to streamline, but it ended up not reducing costs,” she said, with insurance companies pocketing profits instead of putting them toward care.

What does Capps think about the issue on everyone’s mind: the reform bill’s reported $900 billion price tag?

It was a point in Obama’s speech that made some listeners dubious, as it had at Capps’ town hall.

“I will not sign one plan that adds one dime to our deficit, now or in the future,” Obama told the nation Wednesday. Similarly, Capps told attendees at the town hall that the bill would be “deficit neutral.”

She said Thursday that there would be start-up costs for the public option that must be repaid, and that the program would not be fully ready to begin until 2012.

Everyone would have to pay something, except for those who qualify for Medicare. Capps maintains that spreading out the cost by requiring everyone to pay something ultimately would increase cheaper access.

“Our care is inflated by the amount that we have to help clinics and hospitals pay for the uninsured,” Capps said. She added that the individual burden would be less, and that insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies would chip in.

Having a huge number of uninsured people “isn’t practical because they delay treatment until it’s very expensive,” she said.

Capps also said that emphasizing outcomes based on wellness would trim fat from the current system.

“Nobody has to pay a co-pay for a prevention-related visit,” she said. Preventable measures, such as mammograms and other types of screenings, could catch health issues that could cost multiple times more if they aren’t caught early on. “We’re hoping that’s going to save a lot of money,” she said.

Capps has been a die-hard supporter of the public option. It would provide a basic level of service for every American, which would be one of many choices, she said.

“We’d all be shocked at the people we know that have made that gamble,” she said. “Everybody is one illness away from catastrophic costs.”

Insurance providers aren’t excited about serving residents in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, she said, because their reimbursements are out of kilter. Only three or four providers service Santa Barbara, including Blue Cross, Blue Shield and Healthnet, and that the few companies that do serve the area have somewhat of a monopoly.

“They’ve been raising their premium rates,” Capps said. “People are having to drop their health insurance.

“There isn’t a wide choice that our residents can have,” she added, and those without insurance “have nowhere to turn.”

Capps was hesitant to endorse or disapprove of any of the other health-care proposals, such as that of Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee who is working on a bill of his own, one of several working their way through committees.

“I’ll wait to see how that looks,” she said.

Capps said many changes already have been made to the bill, and more are surely to come as a final bill would have to be reconciled between the House and Senate before it can be presented to Obama, which Capps said she hopes will happen by Christmas.

But with Democrats in the clear majority in both chambers, why is Republican support needed at all?

“Because we want it,” she said. “We want it to be the best bill it can be.”

Many of the amendments to the bill were made by Republicans, she said, and were changes put in “because they were good ones.”

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

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