KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
If this latest Republican health care bill fails, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has said he would work with Democrats on a health care bill. One Democrat who says he is willing to do that is Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, and he's with us now. Welcome to the show.
TOM CARPER: Kelly, it's great to be on. Thanks so much.
MCEVERS: So when you look at the United States of America right now and the health care that is available to people, particularly under the Affordable Care Act and the health care exchanges, do you see something that is working, or do you see something needs to be fixed?
CARPER: This is a work in progress. And if you go back seven, eight years ago when we took up the Affordable Care Act, at that time, we were spending 18 percent of GDP for health care in this country. We - the Japanese were spending eight percent. They were getting better results. And at night in this country then, we have 40 million people going to bed in 2009 without any coverage. And in Japan, they cover everybody.
So they can't be that smart in Japan. We can't be that dumb. And so we tried to do something about it. And we'd have ended up I think with an even better plan if Republicans had felt comfortable in fully engaging with us. And they did not.
MCEVERS: Do you think it's working right now?
CARPER: I think parts of it are. All the focus is on the exchange. And the reason why the exchanges which cover about five, six, seven percent of the people - the reason why the prices have gone up there is because of the uncertainty fostered in no small part by the current administration.
The first thing we should do I think is hit the pause button to stabilize the exchanges. That would be a great first step - and then after that, as Democrats and Republicans working together, do three things. One, fix the things in the Affordable Care Act that need to be fixed. Two, retain the stuff that ought to be retained. And three are some things that ought to be dropped. Let's drop them. But we ought to do it not as Democrats, not as Republicans. This is something we ought to do together.
MCEVERS: What do you think about the bill that was put forward by your Republican colleagues today? Is there anything that you like in it, anything you think is constructive?
CARPER: Well, they've just introduced it. I'll be honest with you. I've not seen it. But I would say the first thing we ought to do is stabilize the exchanges. And then let's - people who have good ideas - let's bring them forward. Let's have hearings. Let's have all kinds of input and do it in the open.
MCEVERS: You know, as a Democrat, you are definitely on the sidelines of this debate right now. How likely is it, do you think, that this will become a bipartisan effort and that, you know, Democrats will have a voice in this conversation?
CARPER: Yeah. I think the voices that we've heard around the country, in Delaware and I think in probably 49 other states - where people have said, look; we need to provide coverage for people. We need to try to find a way to do it that's fiscally responsible. And there's a Kaiser-Permanente poll out I think earlier this week, and it said over 70 percent of the people polled want us to work together. And if the folks who feel that way continue to talk to the senators, continue to talk to the U.S. representatives, I think we'll hit the pause button. And I think they will fix and stabilize the exchanges. And then we'll turn to those other three options that I offered. One, fix what needs to be fixed in the ACA. You know, retain that which needs to be retained. And the provisions that can be dropped, drop them. I think most people say, well, that's just common sense. I think that's what we should do.
MCEVERS: Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, thank you so much.
CARPER: Thanks so much, Kelly. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.