Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D- CA) co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus and also serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
As the first of only two members of Congress to have been a welfare recipient, Woolsey is a vocal leader committed to promoting issues that directly impact children and families.
Initially elected in 1993, Congresswoman Woolsey has used her influence as a member of the House Education and Labor Committee to provide children and families with the tools needed to fully realize the American Dream.
She is a supporter of a "robust" public option to health care reform. Below is our discussion.
Kathleen Wells: I've read a report recently that indicates if insurance premiums continue to increase at the rate we've experienced during the past five years, a family policy will cost on average more than $24,000, in the year 2019. That's only 10 years from now. What are your thoughts on that prospect?
Congresswoman Woolsey: Well, that's why we are facing health reform today. That's why health care reform has to be real and meaningful. One of the most important parts is to bring down the cost of health care to the consumers and that leads us to the public option, which would offer competition to the health insurance companies. That would be one of the steps [necessary] to control the costs of health care, the actual delivery [of] care.
Kathleen Wells: So, if the current pace continues, only the richest Americans would be able to afford to have health insurance. Is that an accurate assessment?
Congresswoman Woolsey: Oh, absolutely. It would fall, then, on the federal government to put together some kind of plan to cover all Americans and it won't be a very good plan because we will be so in debt at that time. One thing the public option does is save over 75 billion dollars in startup costs. So, we save money going in that direction.
Kathleen Wells: Will you remain strong on the public option?
Congresswoman Woolsey: Oh, absolutely.
Kathleen Wells: The media has focused on Senator Max Baucus' bill, which has no public option and provides for co-ops. It has no Republican support and the support of only a few Democrats, if that, thus far. Your thoughts?
Congresswoman Woolsey: Let me tell you something else it [the Baucus' bill] has. An older person has to pay five times more for their premiums than a younger person. Five times more! Under our health care reform [proposed by the House of Representatives], it can be no more than two times [higher for older persons compared to what younger age groups pay].
Kathleen Wells: There is a senate bill from the Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee (HELP) which does have a public option, but it's not getting a lot of media attention. How do you think the Baucus bill will be reconciled with the [Senator Tom] Harkin bill?
Congresswoman Woolsey: Well, first of all, I don't have to do that, because I'm not in the Senate. But I can tell you [that, we in ] the House need to reconcile our three bills and come out with the strongest plan that we can put together -- [with] the strongest and the best for savings in cost and the best for providing coverage for all Americans. Then, we vote for ours. It [our reconciled bill] passes and Tom Harkin's committee, the HELP Committee, will have the support they need to really push for what is good and strong in their bill when they are reconciling with the Baucus bill.
It doesn't have to be [a case of] you get half and we get half when you are doing reconciliation. It should be what the people of this country want. They have shown loud and clear in every poll that they want a public option and they want health care reform, as long it does not take away from what they already have and helps protect people who already have health care insurance.
Kathleen Wells: The polling I have seen shows the majority of the American people want the public option. So, why has the public option become such a contentious issue?
Congresswoman Woolsey: I think we let the message get away from us when we left in August. The three bills had passed out of the three House committees, but they had not been reconciled. So, we didn't go home to our constituents with "this is what the House bill is." So, the tea party people and those who are against health care got to scare people to death with all kinds of myths and lies.
There are some real concerns, but those concerns have hardly been heard. The real concerns had a hard time being heard over the yelling and screaming. The concerns included costs and seniors wanting to hear how this really does work for them and not against them. There were just a lot of things that they had a right to ask, but they couldn't be heard over the screaming.
Kathleen Wells: Critics have said that the President is moving too fast and that he is not giving careful and critical consideration to everything. Do you think that's a fair assessment?
Congresswoman Woolsey: No matter how fast he moves it would be too fast for them. They don't want change. Out of my town hall, it was very clear to me, that the majority of people who were against health care [reform] and what we were doing, where against any health care reform, whatsoever.
Kathleen Wells: Some critics claim current health care reform proposals represent a government takeover or a move toward socialized medicine, despite the fact that Medicare is run by the federal government.
Congresswoman Woolsey: Veterans programs are the federal government. The military programs are the federal government. Believe me, there is a lot of federal involvement in health care in this country and those are programs that work quite successfully.
Kathleen Wells: Yet, this isn't understood?
Congresswoman Woolsey: They don't want to understand it. Actually, if I had my choice (and the majority of the Progressive Caucus), we would be pushing for single payer that would be universal and we wouldn't have any private insurers. This little slice that is being offered is a compromise, but it is a compromise that is meaningful because we want to have competition available.
The private health insurance companies have huge overhead -- 30 percent. It goes to marketing, it goes to their CEO's gigantic salaries and, then, they have to pay their stockholders because they are public companies -- they are on the stock market. The public plan won't have that overhead, so we will be able to provide the base that everybody has to provide. When this is finished, all heath care insurers will have to have a base amount of benefit. But we will be able to provide more for less because we don't have that huge overhead. That will be quite telling and that is what the private industry does not want. Well, it's too bad.
Kathleen Wells: Since we are seeing so much resistance to the public option, do you think it would have been strategically better for the President to start off with a universal single payer plan and then move to the public option?
Congresswoman Woolsey: Well, I think the public option is going to be accepted in the long run before we are through with this health care reform. I just, in my heart of hearts, believe it is going to go this way because that's what people in this country want.
I sometimes wonder if we, the progressives, should not have started with the single payer and thrown it out there and then used the public option as our compromise. We didn't want to fill the air with arguments that we knew wouldn't win at all. We wanted to start really strong and we told everyone that this was a compromise right upfront and that we don't have any desire to compromise further on this piece of it.
I don't think the President should have [started with universal single payer.] He said if he was starting from scratch, that's what he would have done -- he would have had a single payer. He has all kinds of reasons why he doesn't do single payer now. I'm just hoping he will stay with us on the public option part of this.
When we say robust, we mean that. Co-ops don't work, triggers don't work. If someone can come up with a better way to save money and provide this competition and to make sure that everyone is covered, fine. But, so far, we are pretty sure that the public option is the very best way to go.