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Elizabeth Warren says Senate should improve existing health care system

Senator Elizabeth Warren and pharmacy operations manager Donato Mazzola spoke Monday about an automatic prescription-filling machine during a tour of the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. Patients and staff at the center thanked Warren for her efforts to uphold the Affordable Care Act.Nicholas Pfosi for The Boston Globe

Days after a dramatic showdown in Washington over health care ended in defeat for Republicans, Senator Elizabeth Warren returned to Massachusetts to take a victory lap.

At a round table at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center on Monday, Warren called her GOP colleagues’ failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act “a triumph for democracy” — and said it is time for senators to turn their attention to enhancing the existing health care system.

“An amazing thing happened last week, and that is that we managed to save health care for millions of Americans across this country. And I just want to be clear to all of you: It’s been a hard fight,” she told administrators, doctors, and patients in attendance.


Senator John McCain cast a decisive “no” vote on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act in the early hours of Friday morning, effectively ending a months-long Republican push to dismantle the law. During Monday’s event, Warren credited health care advocates and public opinion more broadly for turning the tide in Washington.

“I think what the fight last week showed us is America believes in health care coverage,” she said. “Not every single person, but I think we’ve made a big shift. And we’ve made the shift to say it’s a nonpartisan issue, it’s a human issue.”

The mood in the room Monday was celebratory, as health center patients and staff thanked Warren for her efforts to uphold the Affordable Care Act, and she touted the center as a model for low-cost, community health care in return. Founded in 1970 to serve East Boston’s “largely immigrant and economically struggling population,” according to its website, the center provides primary care, emergency services, and community programs.

At the round table, two Latin American immigrants spoke about the positive impact those programs have had on their lives. A pediatrician emphasized the importance of the Children’s Health Insurance Program — coverage for low-income children that the ACA expanded — to her patients. And an administrator spoke about the center’s regional training academy aimed at integrating behavioral and primary care.


Warren emphasized that Democrats and health care advocates should not become complacent in the wake of last week’s victory.

“This fight is not over yet. It could come back at any moment,” she said. “There are still those across the country that want to fight to roll back health care coverage for millions of Americans, and it means that we have to be vigilant in this fight.”

In a tweet over the weekend, President Trump threatened to halt federal payments to insurers and employer contributions to members of Congress and their staffs mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Trump has called on the Senate to continue its effort to repeal his predecessor’s hallmark legislation, even after Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said Friday that “it’s time to move on.”

“I think the Senate is ready to move on. I think Donald Trump is ready to have a tantrum,” Warren said after the round table. “America wants us to make this health care system better — not to roll it back, to make it better. I think that’s now where the Senate needs to go, and I think that the president needs to get in line.”

Warren, who has previously voiced her support for single-payer health care, said the idea merits discussion down the road. “We have got to have the broader conversation here in America about how to make sure that every American gets health care coverage at a lower cost,” she said. “Medicare works for many people across this country. We should make Medicare work for all of us.”


For now, though, Warren said the Senate should focus on improving the current system. On the table at the moment: a bill to import medications from Canada and another Warren is cosponsoring with Senator Al Franken of Minnesota and other Democrats that would lower the cost of prescription drugs.

Warren confirmed that some Senate Republicans have spoken privately with Democrats about tweaking the Affordable Care Act, although she declined to comment on the substance of those conversations.

Asked whether Democrats should run on a single-payer platform in 2018, Warren skirted the question. “I think of this as less about politics and more about values,” she said. “We are all part of the human family, and health care is a basic human right. . . . As Democrats, we need to keep talking about our values.”

Claire Parker can be reached at claire.parker@globe.com. Reach her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.