Part luncheon and part legislation, the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee’s (SBWPC) ninth annual President’s Circle Luncheon, held at the Montecito Country Club on March 5, stuck its fork not only in salads but also very firmly into the healthcare debate.
Its roster rife with recognizable names and faces – including Mayor Helene Schneider, Congress member Lois Capps, and former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson – the event promised lively conversation, especially given the presence of Neera Tanden. Now the chief operating officer for the Center for American Progress, one of Washington D.C.’s premiere think tanks, Tanden. formerly advised both Presidents Clinton (on domestic policy) and Obama (on healthcare reform).
After a welcome address proclaiming the SBWPC’s commitment to the “feminist agenda,” Mayor Schneider, a former SBWPC president, credited the organization for her political success. “If you’re interested in politics, get involved,” she said.
Next to speak was Congressmember Capps, on hand to relay the recent healthcare goings-on in D.C. First, however, she followed in Mayor Schneider’s footsteps, thanking the SBWPC for her political position. “I am in Congress a lot because of this organization. All that I am, I am because of the SBWPC,” she said.
More pressingly, Capps relayed news straight from the Oval Office. Having met with President Obama the day before, Capps declared, “The President is on board.” She said that President Obama is expected to sign reform bills into law within the coming weeks. While acknowledging that the proposed healthcare legislation is not entirely what most Democrats had in mind, Capps emphasized the bills’ positives. “There are not perfect bills, but they make real progress,” she said, noting both the approximately 30 million Americans who will no longer be without health insurance once the reform bills become law, and the illegality of insurance companies’ refusal of service to consumers with a pre-existing condition.
Delving deeper into the message behind the luncheon’s title, “Being a Woman: A Pre-Existing Condition,” Capps spoke of the “permanent establishment of a Department of Women’s Health,” as well as the pending cessation of charging women higher insurance premiums than men.
Capps also talked about reproductive choice. Calling the bills’ “language on abortion coverage too restrictive,” Capps also strived to appreciate the bigger picture. “This bill is not about abortion, it is about healthcare,” she said, adding that Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), both of whom she met with, recognize the need to pass the bill “for the greater good.” While declaring “health expenses the number one cause of personal bankruptcy,” Capps also assured the attendees that “the day the bill is signed into law, [we] can begin to make it better” in terms of women’s reproductive choice.
Tanden subsequently addressed the attendees, both praising Capps’s effort on behalf of abortion coverage in the healthcare bill and declaring that “healthcare is a ticking time bomb… . If we don’t solve [the problem] now, it will become a catastrophe.”
Turning her attention to a current catastrophe, Tanden riffed on the insurance companies’ blatant gender discrimination. “Women are the most taken-advantage-of in the healthcare system,” she said, adding, “The system works very much against women.”
Tanden also sought to point out how intimate health care is and how that affects the national discussion. “Everyone has an experience with healthcare,” she said, adding that because people “feel very personal about it” it is “very easy to scare people” as opposed to providing them with the facts. Tanden said that those who oppose healthcare reform, especially the fear-mongering insurance companies, “recognize the change this bill will bring.” If, she said, “people realize that they are no longer at the whim of health insurance companies, that will change the debates we have about many issues.”