Capitol Weekly Interview: Jodi Hicks

Jodi Hicks at her office in Sacramento in November 2017. (Photo: AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

Jodi Hicks is co-chair of Mercury Public Affairs’ Sacramento office. She is the first woman and the first Asian-America to serve in that role and is regarded as one of the Capitol community’s foremost advocates of quality health care. 

Before joining Mercury, Hicks, a registered lobbyist, was a partner with a prominent Capitol lobbying firm, and before that, she was vice president of government relations at the California Medical Association. Hicks, the interim CEO and president of the Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, also serves on the governing board of Open California, which publishes Capitol Weekly.

Capitol Weekly’s Chuck McFadden caught up with her recently for a chat.

Capitol Weekly: Generally speaking, how do you assess the state of healthcare in California? What needs to be done still, in your view?

Jodi Hicks: California must ensure that every resident has equal access to health care and make it a core value of the state.  Compared to many parts of the country, we are fortunate to have state leaders that have identified health care as a priority issue.  We are investing in safety net programs and a commission to propose ways to provide healthcare for all Californians—but there are still things we can and should do to expand access to care in remote or underserved populations.  This means increasing our state efforts to address physical barriers to care, like transportation access and the need for more rural health centers.  We should invest in telemedicine and data analytics to reach patients where they are better and faster.  And we must address the social determinants of health that also act as barriers to care, such as income level and housing and food security. At Planned Parenthood we like to say California is expanding, not banning, access to care, and I would like to see us work together to really bring this idea to fruition.

CW: What about Medicare for all? Is it going to fly in California as an asset to the Democratic candidate hopefuls who are pushing it?

JH: Any financing model to achieve universal coverage has its strengths and challenges. We know that. Single-payer, public option or Medicare/Medicaid buy-in approach all deserve to be analyzed and debated by Californians and their elected officials, and that also includes Democratic candidate hopefuls.  So I’m fine with candidates debating it—we need to see health care debated on stage in front of the American public; it’s one of the most important issues facing us at this time. However, fundamental change is needed to move the direction of our health care system to one that covers all people and emphasizes equal access to quality care. Insurance plans, by definition, lose money by caring for the sick.  Covering all Californians, both healthy and sick, our workforce and more vulnerable populations, requires payment transformations with better medical outcomes.  Ultimately, the goal of our healthcare system should be a healthier and more productive society.

CW: Is the ACA likely to play a major role in the 2020 campaigns? What about in California beyond 2020?

JH:  The Affordable Care Act was based on the idea that every American should be able to get health insurance—which shouldn’t be such a radical idea – and the American public has come to accept this premise. So, yes: the ACA is going to play a major role in the upcoming 2020 election—it has to. Health care is at the forefront of political “issues” right now, and for good reason—the ACA has granted essential health care coverage for millions. But, as you know, the California health care infrastructure is deeply intertwined with the ACA. If the ACA falls, the potential impact upon California and across the country would be nothing short of devasting. Continuing to ensure the life of the ACA in 2020 and beyond is of paramount importance to me, and I know it will be amongst Democratic candidates, both state and national. 

CW: What are you hoping for from the Newsom administration?

JH: In his campaign for governor, Governor Newsom said he would be bold—and I’m happy to see that he truly has been in his first few months as our governor. He’s time and time again made evident his commitment to health care and has made expanding health care access a priority. Just within the past two months, we’ve seen him double down on the investment in sexual and reproductive health for a historic $100 million for Planned Parenthood and other health care providers.  As we continue to face national assaults to our California values, from LGBT rights, to reproductive freedom, attacks on our immigrant community, the list goes on and on, this governor will need to continue to be bold and innovative to protect and progress California. 

CW: Is healthcare going to continue taking an increasing amount of the state and nation’s GDP?

JH: In short answer: yes. Where we as a state decide to invest and spend our resources is simply a statement of our values, and so our budget should be a statement of our values. So, if in California we’re to believe that health care is a fundamental human right we must also face that it comes at a cost.  But that cost provides savings at almost every other measurement of quality of life.  Healthy people work more, do better in school, require less costlier areas of health care like emergency medicine and chronic disease. Investing in people saves in the long run and in health care is no different.  Those that are looking at California’s finances should expect, especially as the fifth-largest economy in the world, to see, I hope, a receipt that details our commitment to expanding health care access.

CW: Are anti-vaxxers going to continue to be a factor, or will they gradually fade out?

JH: Well, I wish they would fade out but that’s unlikely. Anti-vaxxers are a minority…albeit a very vocal one. And, unfortunately, we have leaders that don’t value medically accurate information and we have celebrities continuing to spread misinformation.  Social media platforms continue to spread information unchecked, the result of which is anability for anti-vaxxers to intimidate and insert themselves into policy discussions despite science and facts being on the other side. It is easy to brush the noise away as annoying, but unfortunately their tactics can be harmful to public health as seen with the continued outbreaks of preventable diseases.  Fortunately, we have California leadership that continues to fight against extremism and rhetoric.  In the end, it always comes down to the simple rules we should have learned as children. Care about others. Be kind. Tell the truth.

Editor’s Note: This interview also appeared on Page 1 of Capitol Weekly’s special print edition on health care. Corrects name, second graf, to Open California.

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