Congressman , a Democrat serving California's 30th Congressional District, is now running for the .
The 33rd District stretches from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to the Beach Cities, through slivers of Marina del Rey and Venice, up to Santa Monica, Malibu, Calabasas and Agoura Hills. The district also extends inland to include Brentwood, Pacific Palisades, Beverly Hills and parts of West L.A.
Having served in Congress since 1975, Waxman is facing newcomer . Waxman and Bloomfield were the two candidates out of eight to .
In part one of a two-part interview, Patch asked Waxman about the Affordable Care Act and how he foresees the future of health care, and also what he thinks about the Westside Subway Extension.
Patch: You were one of the main architects of President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, informally known as Obamacare. In what ways did your constituents influence your work on it?
Congressman Henry A. Waxman: I was the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the committees that had primary jurisdiction over the legislation.
We were a major part of the action to adopt the Affordable Care Act. I’m very proud of that law. I think it’s an excellent law. It will provide an opportunity for millions of Americans to get health insurance who have been denied that chance in the past for a number of reasons. They might have a preexisting medical condition and the insurance companies won’t cover them. They can’t afford it. Their employers don’t help them and they had one barrier after another put in their way.
I think one of the influences to me in this district were the large number of people who still didn’t have insurance. And the small businesses that couldn’t afford to cover their employees will now be able to do so because of the tax credits that we make available to them.
Patch: How will the Affordable Care Act affect Medicare, which provides health insurance for many of the nation's seniors?
Waxman: I do have a large number of seniors in the district and I looked at this from the perspective of Medicare. We improved Medicare greatly in the Affordable Care Act.
There’s a lot of talk about reductions in Medicare to pay for the Affordable Care Act. I think that people ought to be clear about it. The reductions are for future spending in Medicare and they relate primarily to insurance companies that have been overpaid in the past and have no reason to be overpaid in the future.
What we did in Medicare is to improve the program by extending the trust fund many years into the future.
We also put in for Medicare patients, as we did for all insured patients, a requirement that preventive health care services be provided without co-payments so it would encourage people to get preventive care.
The biggest boost to the Medicare population is that the so-called "doughnut hole," where seniors, after paying a portion of their pharmaceutical costs, found that they had to pay all of it for a period of time. [It] was a crushing burden on many seniors. We eliminated that doughnut hole and people will not have to do that in the future.
The bill did a lot of good things. I had in mind the seniors, I had in mind the people who didn’t have health insurance and I had in mind taxpayers because we’re going to be able to hold down health care costs not simply by shifting those costs onto patients, which is what the Republican budget would do. They don’t know how to hold down health care costs, they don’t want to face those ever-increasing costs, so they simply would say under Medicare they’ll give people a voucher and tell them to pick up the rest of the cost for their insurance themselves, whether they can afford it or not. That’s not holding down costs, that’s simply shifting it.
Patch: How has the Affordable Care Act affected Medi-Cal, the health insurance program for low-income Californians?
Waxman: For the Medi-Cal program, which is part of the Medicaid program nationally, the Republican approach was to simply shift the cost onto the states by limiting the amount that the federal government would pay to the states and then let the states decide whether they have enough money—which they undoubtedly will not—to take on the burden of telling people who are disabled, very poor and sick that were getting care under Medi-Cal in the past that they’re just not going to be eligible for it any longer.
Patch: Is there a message that you would like to send to voters about the future of Obamacare?
Waxman: I think if the Republicans have a chance, which they will have if Romney wins the presidency and the Republicans take over Congress, they will try to repeal Obamacare. They will try to shift Medicare into a voucher plan for seniors, they’ll make Medicaid into a block grant and there will be a lot of people who will not have what we promised them in the past, which is help to pay their health care bills, especially when they become seniors and when they become poor.
Patch: Why do you think so many people have come out agasint the Affordable Care Act?
Waxman: I think that a lot of people bought the propaganda line that this is government-run health care. Ironically, a lot of people who said, 'We don’t want government-run health care, we want our Medicare program,' didn’t realize it was a government-run health care program—in the sense that the government pays the bills. But it pays the bills to private doctors and private health care providers.
There was a lot of misinformation about death panels, which the Tea Party people and the Republican organization argued was part of this bill, and it’s not. There’s a lot of misconception because a lot of misinformation has been given about the legislation and people get nervous when there’s going to be something new and something big. They don’t like the idea of the whole bill, but if you ask people what they think of all the parts of the legislation, it’s wildly popular. People support the idea of giving heath care insurance availability to people with pre-existing conditions and stopping the insurance companies from discriminating. People support all of these different elements of the bill.
The Republicans said they wanted to repeal it and replace it. Well they’ve passed through the Republican-controlled House repeal after repeal of the law, but they’ve never told us what they would replace it with. Now that we’ve seen the Republican budget we know the replacement for the programs that people do support and already have, and that’s to make Medicare not the program that it has been since it was enacted in 1965.
Patch: What are your thoughts on the ?
Waxman: I support the subway system. I had concerns about tunneling under the Fairfax area where there had been so much accumulation of methane gas that there was an explosion at 3rd and Fairfax. I wasn’t convinced when the [Westside Subway Extension] was first proposed that there was a satisfactory technological way to do the tunneling safely. I agreed with [Los Angeles] Mayor Villaraigosa that I would revisit that issue if we could get an expert panel brought together to look at the safety questions, which we did and the safety panel indicated that the technology is there to do the subway tunneling safely in general.
I’m confident it’s safe to do. I support the subway system. I’ve been fighting for it for years. And I supported the ballot proposition that has made it possible and I supported the and the [Los Angeles] mayor’s proposal to put all the different subway systems together and get them at the same time rather than have to compete with each other.
Patch: Do you support or oppose plans to as part of the Westside Subway Extension?
Waxman: I wrote the Metropolitan Transportation Authority about Beverly Hills High School and I said that they have to take safety as their No. 1 concern. [The MTA] that they see the risks in tunneling under Beverly Hills High School but they saw greater risks taking an alternative route.
I’ve looked to the experts, again, on the technology and at the MTA. They had a very difficult choice and they made the choice to tunnel under Beverly Hills High School. This will be tested further, the safety questions, . I want that question exhaustively studied.
I support the system and I’ll continue to fight for funds for the system, but where the system goes is up to the MTA, not Congress.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Part two will be posted Monday. Patch has also reached out to candidate Bill Bloomfield for an interview.