Without a doubt, Rafael del Castillo said, the No. 1 issue facing Hawaii in the upcoming election is the economy.
But for the 64-year-old seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives seat in the 2nd Congressional District, health care is another major concern, with economic and broader implications.
“Congress has to make it a priority for communities to address health care in local ways,” del Castillo said.
Each community should be encouraged and empowered to select unique approaches to health care, which will allow communities to focus on problems specific to their areas, he added. To that end, del Castillo has, in the last several years, formed five health care task forces.
“We actually have the resources and the knowledge (to address problems), but the way our health care system is designed, they don’t work together too well,” he said.
Better access to health care will reduce costs, and health care costs are something the country needs to address in order to help the economy. Health care financing — insurance providers — need to get out of health care decisions, he added. Doctors and patients need to be able to make those decisions, he said.
Hawaii would also benefit from increases to the Medicare and Medicaid insurance rates.
“We do not get any consideration for the cost or recognition that we’re rural,” del Castillo said. “Our congressional delegation hasn’t been effective” in getting Hawaii’s doctors that kind of recognition.
Relaxing the visa application process for visitors from China would have a positive impact on Hawaii’s economy, he said. The visa waiver for Japanese tourists has worked well, he added.
“We know that the Chinese spend more per person,” he said. “There’s a big, bottled up demand for Hawaii tourism.”
Del Castillo said he sees areas for reorganization in some parts of the federal government, in ways that would benefit Hawaii. For one, he would like to see the federal Department of Education stop making mandates like No Child Left Behind. Rather, Congress should be setting national goals, such as what kind of workforce the country sould have. The DOE can work from those goals, he said.
Review of schools should take a longer view than just the snapshot standardized testing provides, he said. A better standard might be what kinds of professions a school’s graduates are entering, he said.
The Defense Department is still largely structured for the 20th century, del Castillo said. The department needs to remove redundancies, and refocus itself as a peace-growing force, not a peace-keeping one, while remaining able to react “quickly and decisively,” if the need arises, he said.
Del Castillo held up Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe, Oahu as a good example of what the military can do, especially with regards to setting an example in using alternative energy.
To address the growing concerns about Social Security, del Castillo proposed ending the cap that limits the amount of income that may be taxed for Social Security purposes. Right now, only income up to $110,000 is taxed when a person files their federal taxes. Congress should also consider increasing the eligibility age.
While the Farm Bill, which provides subsidies to some large, staple crop growers, was once useful, del Castillo said he sees ways to change that program as well.
“What I want to preserve is the Farm Bill for family farms and make corporate farms ineligible for subsidies,” he said. “I want to take (genetically modified crops) off the table.”