Photos by the Associated Press.
Photos by the Associated Press.

We look at where Sen. Gary Peters and opponent John James stand on the health issues that matter most to Michiganders.

HOWELL, MI—Keith Van Houten’s son Kyle has muscular dystrophy. Kyle’s muscles are slowly deteriorating, leading to trouble walking, breathing, swallowing, and eventually the disease will be fatal. 

And it’s expensive. Van Houten explained that the cost of care is high. Although Kyle is on his insurance now, he worries what will happen when his son ages out of his plan, or if he loses his job and therefore the insurance his son relies on. A single drug for Kyle’s condition costs $90,000 a year, every year for the rest of his life, Van Houten said. 

“Kyle can stay on my plan until he’s age 26,” he explained. “That takes a lot of the stress, the anxiety out of our situation.”

Muscular dystrophy is what used to be a pre-existing condition. Such a condition allowed insurers to either charge more or deny coverage to people like Kyle. Insurance reforms in 2010 stopped that practice. But those protections are in danger.

“I’d say it makes me angry, what’s happening,” Van Houten told The ‘Gander. ”When you look at [Republicans’] actions, not what they’re saying but what they’re doing, they’re actively suing to overturn these kinds of protections with no plan whatsoever. It’ll just disappear and we’ll be left holding the bag.”

That’s why he’s voting for Sen. Gary Peters this November.

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In addition to fighting to protect those protections, Peters has worked to reduce the high cost of life-saving prescription drugs that contribute to medical bills breaking the bank for Michiganders like the Van Houtens. 

His opponent, Republican candidate John James, would do away with legal protections for pre-existing conditions and instead try and address the issue by changing how lawsuits are organized. James also seeks to address prescription prices through healthy eating.

But there’s another healthcare issue dividing the candidates. And like pre-existing conditions and prescription prices, it’s an area under imminent threat thanks to President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett. 

“A Pivotal Moment for Reproductive Freedom”

In the late 1980s, Peters and his then-wife Heidi had a medically-necessary abortion. The Peters family told this story to Elle Magazine this week.

The Peters shared they were excited to expand their family, but at only four months into the pregnancy, Heidi’s water broke. Their doctor told them that without amniotic fluid a miscarriage would happen naturally. It didn’t. The doctor then recommended abortion because the pregnancy was no longer viable, but the hospital wouldn’t allow the doctor to perform the procedure so the couple returned home. 

As the couple waited for a miscarriage, the condition started affecting Heidi’s health. After three days, the doctor told them Heidi was at risk of losing her uterus if the pregnancy continued. Worse, she ran the risk of becoming septic, which would kill her. 

Even after the doctor tried appealing to the hospital’s board for an exception to its ban on abortions, the hospital would not allow the procedure to save Heidi’s uterus and, potentially, her life. 

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“I still vividly remember he left a message on the answering machine saying, ‘They refused to give me permission, not based on good medical practice, simply based on politics. I recommend you immediately find another physician who can do this procedure quickly,’” Peters recounted in Elle Magazine. 

The risks of not doing it were clear.

“If it weren’t for urgent and critical medical care, I could have lost my life,” Heidi said in the interview. 

Peters said he shared his family’s story because the right to make that decision—as hard as it was for the Peters—has not been at such imminent risk since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Trump’s pick to replace late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,  Amy Coney Barrett, signed on to a 2006 statement calling the Roe decision “barbaric” in a newspaper advertisement that Barrett did not disclose before her confirmation hearings this week. 

Peters opponent, James, supports Barrett’s confirmation and her stance against individual reproductive rights. He has called the right to choose “genocide” and has refused to answer questions about whether he would support abortion in life-threatening cases, like Heidi’s . 

“It’s important for folks who are willing to tell these stories to tell them, especially now,” Peters told Elle. “The new Supreme Court nominee could make a decision that will have major ramifications for reproductive health for women for decades to come. This is a pivotal moment for reproductive freedom.”

How the Future of Health Care Is Being Decided Right Now

In many ways, the most pressing and urgent concern the US Senate faces in regard to health care, from Peters’ experience to Van Houten’s, is the confirmation of Barrett to the Supreme Court that is presently underway. Barrett is also a pick tailor-made to radically destabilize the health insurance landscape given her stated opinions on the signature health insurance reforms of 2010.  Notably, she criticized the ruling upholding those protections and her nomination is being hailed by Republicans as the death knell for that legislation.

Only a week after the November election, the Supreme Court will hear California v. Texas, a case on the major insurance reforms that protect people with pre-existing conditions and provide expanded Medicaid to struggling Michiganders.

Van Houten supports Sen. Peters in part due to his opposition to Barrett’s appointment. 

“Families like mine are exactly who insurers want to exclude, they don’t want to pay these kinds of benefits,” Van Houten said. “That scares the hell out of me.”

While John James is supportive of Barrett’s nomination, Peters is mobilizing to highlight how Republicans seek to end existing protections without a replacement plan  for families.

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“Let’s be very clear, [Republicans] do not have a plan,” Peters said in a virtual roundtable early in October. “They have no idea how to do it. They haven’t had a plan for years.”

And as the pandemic again tightens its grip on Michigan, it ensures the more than 100,000 Michiganders who have already survived the virus will face either denial of coverage or rising costs as a result of their battle with coronavirus. 

In a video from early 2020, James called the law protecting people with pre-existing conditions a “monstrosity” that needed to be dismantled. Though he has been more evasive on the question of how the November Court case should be decided, he both fervently supports Barrett and opposes the legislation she is expected to strike down.