Rep. Lois Capps, whose 23rd District includes portions of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, first won office in 1998 after a special election to succeed her late husband, Walter H. Capps. A former school nurse, she has passed legislation to address the national nursing shortage, improve mental health services and provide Medicare coverage to patients suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease. A supporter of a public option for health insurance, she gave a Five Questions interview to Calbuzz correspondent Susan Rose shortly before President Obama’s speech on health care reform to Congress this week.
1. What are the chances of getting a health care reform program passed this year?
We will pass health insurance reform this year. It’s no easy task; if it was, we’d have done it years ago. But we will get legislation enacted this year.
2. In the Energy and Commerce committee, you voted for HR 3200, which has a public health option component. Some progressives have argued that doing health care reform without a public option isn’t worth doing – do you support that stance?
I believe the public option is the best way for us to enact meaningful health insurance reform because it is a tool we can use to give Americans greater choice in health care and keep costs down. I voted for the bill that passed the Energy and Commerce Committee (and) also expect to vote for a bill on the House floor that includes a strong public option. I talked to the Speaker about this recently and she told me that she expects the bill to pass the House with a strong public health option. I’m not going to sign a pledge or box myself in at this early stage but I certainly think the best way to increase the number of folks with coverage and lower costs for everyone is a public health insurance option.
3.The health reform debate has included a discussion of health co-ops as an alternative to a public option. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach?
Co-ops are problematic. They haven’t been used as widely. I am skeptical about their effectiveness as a stand alone solution to escalating health insurance costs and the many other barriers to care currently presented by private health insurance companies. Co-ops could exist side by side with the public option. But I think a robust public option would be the most effective way to make premiums affordable and ensure everyone has coverage.
4. You have held three town hall meetings and held other events on health care in your district. Disrupted town hall meetings have been called “astroturf” protests by Speaker Pelosi. Do you think these protesters accurately reflect public opinion about health care reform?
I do think most of my constituents share my view that our health insurance system is broken and we need reform now. It seems like a lot of the loudest protests against health insurance reform that we’ve seen around the country have been organized by individuals or groups committed to protecting the status quo or trying to damage President Obama.
Health care is an important issue to everyone and it’s understandable that there is a lot of emotion on this issue especially given the blatant misinformation campaign about the bill. It’s a real shame that so much of the argument against common sense reform is about scaring people – like the so-called “death panels” or this business about the government supposedly “taking over health care.” Meanwhile, families with coverage can see it vanish with the loss of a job or an unexpected illness or accident. I believe that most Americans, and most of my constituents, do want change and the groups who have been most vocal in disrupting town halls and similar events are in the minority.
5. How has your professional experience as a nurse guided your approach?
I know too well from my experience working as a school nurse what it means for a child and/or their family to go without health coverage. That’s why my number one priority was ensuring that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health insurance as part of this legislation. I also know that we have a serious shortage of nurses and physicians who can provide critical primary care services. That’s why I worked to ensure that our health reform legislation included important incentives to increase the number of doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals providing primary and preventive care, particularly in medically underserved communities.