WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow doesn't think of health care as a political issue.
"Health care is a basic human right for people; it's not a privilege. It's something that we all have in common. In a given moment, we could become ill or have an accident," Stabenow, a Democrat, said.
Stabenow was against the proposed legislation which would have repealed parts of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The bill, which failed to pass in the Senate, would have left 15 million more Americans without insurance next year, the Congressional Budget Office said.
U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman, a Republican representing Michigan's 1st District, voted for the American Health Care Act, which would have repealed Obamacare. He also voted in favor of legislation that would have prevented members of Congress and their staff from exempting themselves from the American Health Care Act.
Citizens who were concerned they were going to lose their health care if Obamacare was repealed called Stabenow's office when the proposed legislation was being debated.
"The common call we have gotten is people wanting to know what they can do to stop this effort to take away health care," Stabenow said. "We had people very, very fearful."
Stabenow said Obamacare has reduced the number of people going into the emergency room without insurance, allowed people to stay on their parent's insurance until 26 and covered people with pre-existing conditions. But there hasn't been enough competition between private insurance pools, she said.
The cost of health care needs to be brought down while coverage for people needs to be increased, Stabenow said. In December, Stabenow and 18 other lawmakers sent a letter to then President-elect Donald Trump outlining specific steps he could take to bring down the cost of prescription drugs, including allowing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate better prices for Medicare recipients.
Instead, according to Stabenow, the Trump administration has been more focused on trying to sabotage the current system.
"They have created instability, so insurance companies don't know what's coming, so they keep raising rates. So we need to stabilize the current system, and we need to lower the costs of prescription drugs, which is the No. 1 cost driver," Stabenow said.
Stabenow has sponsored bills meant to improve the state of health care. Last week, she introduced legislation which would provide the option for people ages 55 to 64 to buy into Medicare. Seven other Democratic senators have cosponsored the bill, but Stabenow hopes the bill will be able to get bipartisan support.
In February, staff for American Retirees Education Foundation and National Retiree Legislative Network published a study outlining reasons why they think adults ages 55 to 64 need a buy-in option for Medicare. According to both organizations, more than 4 million U.S. adults in this age range lack health insurance.
"A lot of folks 55 and older have a hard time finding affordable insurance and medical care. I have talked to many, many people who are counting down the days until they are 65, so they can get good health care coverage through Medicare," Stabenow said.
Stabenow has also introduced a bill which would give a 50 percent tax credit for the cost of small businesses providing health care for their employees.
But any meaningful health care reform is going to require bipartisan support, Stabenow said. She thinks many of her Republican colleagues agree with her that the current insurance marketplace needs to be stabilized.
"It's really important to work with people across the aisle instead of folks focusing on taking away health care," Stabenow said. "We need to be focused on lowering costs and creating an opportunity for people to have health care."
In September, the Senate Health Committee will hold bipartisan hearings on how to stabilize and strengthen the individual insurance marketplace. Stabenow said it's a good first step.
"We need to work together. Health care is a very personal issue. It's not a political issue. It's personal for all of us," Stabenow said.
Staff for U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, said the Democratic senator was not available for an interview but sent a statement to the News-Review.
“We need to come together and work on bipartisan solutions that will help lower the cost of health care for Michiganders. In the U.S. Senate, I have introduced bipartisan legislation to expand access to innovative services like telemedicine that can help doctors and patients save time and money," the statement reads.
The statement also said Peters supports Stabenow's bill to allow people to buy into Medicare at 55.
"These kinds of commonsense steps will help lower costs for consumers and ensure people can continue accessing affordable and quality health care services,” Peters stated.