Democratic Senator Glad GOP's Bill Is Sidelined, But Sees Long Fight Ahead

Jul 17, 2017
Originally published on July 18, 2017 12:30 am
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Two more Republican lawmakers have come out against the Senate's health bill, effectively crippling the legislation before it ever hit the floor for a vote. The defeat of the GOP Senate bill is a major blow to all Republicans involved. Senator Debbie Stabenow is a Democrat from Michigan. We called her up to get her reaction to what's going on. Welcome to the program, Senator.

DEBBIE STABENOW: Well, hi, Audie. How are you (laughter)?

CORNISH: So it sounds like this is a moment from crowing. I don't want to read too much into that laugh. But how are you feeling about what's happened to this legislation?

STABENOW: Well, this is great news. Although we know that, you know, we have to be cautious about it because we've had so many stops and starts. Originally the House of course pulled their vote and then came back and voted and passed something. And we've had starts and stops in the Senate. But this feels different to me. I mean I really think that, you know, this is a moment for everybody who's been so engaged - all the activists, all the families, advocacy groups, everybody in health care.

CORNISH: So you think the constituents who have come out played a role in this scenario.

STABENOW: There's no question, really no question about it. And you know, I've been involved in this for months now. I started calling our hospital CEOs in Michigan and doctors and nurses and advocates back in December when I knew they were going to try to do this in January with 51 votes. And what's fascinating by this is they literally originally said they were going to do this by January 27. And here we are in July. And they've not been able to do it because it's not a political game. It's personal for people.

CORNISH: Right. You've already criticized this legislation as a political exercise by...

STABENOW: Yes, yes.

CORNISH: ...The Republican Party. But there are still markets - insurance markets around this country that are struggling, that may be down to just one provider on the federal exchanges or on their state exchanges. So what now? Are you satisfied with the status quo?

STABENOW: Not at all, not at all. And first of all, in order to fix that which needs to be fixed, you don't have to cut Medicaid by $800 billion and give it to a big tax cut for the, you know, wealthiest people in the country. That has nothing to do with fixing the market. So if we want to do that, first of all, they have to stop undermining the current system where they've pulled away the reinsurance system, the cost-sharing payments that have caused things to be destabilized. They're not reaching out to young people and healthier people.

So they have done things to make it worse. But those things can be fixed. And we know a number of things. I mean certainly I support having a public option for people to be able to have alternatives to buy in to Medicare, to be able to have alternatives, insurance for a public option.

CORNISH: But it's hard to see a Republican Congress swinging from repeal to public option. So is there a role for Democrats going forward?

STABENOW: Yes, absolutely. What we can do and what we've talked to Republican colleagues about is to reinstate something called a reinsurance system that will help make sure pre-existing conditions are covered without skyrocketing costs. We have proposals that for those areas like you talked about in Iowa, for instance, where there are no private insurers in the plans - well, you know who does have plans - the U.S. Senate and House members and their staff. We're required to be a part of the Affordable Care Act.

CORNISH: Right, yes.

STABENOW: So we can allow people to buy into those. Why shouldn't they have the same opportunities as their members of Congress?

CORNISH: Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat from Michigan, we'll have to leave it there. I'm sure we'll talk about this more in the coming days. Thanks so much.

STABENOW: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.