Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini Says Obamacare Must Be Fixed, Not Repealed

May 3, 2017, 6:00 PM UTC

The Senate does not have the votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Aetna (AET) CEO Mark Bertolini said during Fortune‘s second annual Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego on Wednesday, adding that the government must instead fix the piece of legislation or it’s going to “continue to deteriorate.”

“I’ve spent enough time inside the legislative labyrinth understanding what can be done or cannot be done under reconciliation, and we cannot repeal Obamacare, ACA whatever you want to call it, without 60 votes in the Senate,” he said. “What we need to do is admit that it needs to be fixed.”

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed eight years, ago, and Bertolini said it has not been touched since then, noting that “no piece of major social legislation has ever had that happen.” He said that until the ACA, “this nation has never passed a major piece of social legislation without bipartisan support,” and that legislation that has been passed in the social sphere has been updated every year.

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Bertolini also discussed the ways that his personal health care crises shaped the way he looks at his business. In 2001, his 16-year-old son, Eric, was diagnosed with a cancer that had never been cured. Only 34 people had ever had it—all had died—and his doctors gave him six months to live. “The health care system viewed him as a disease rather than my son,” Bertolini said. He ended up spending almost a year in the hospital with Eric, who today is 31 years old and is the only person to ever have survived the cancer.

A year after his son got home from the hospital, Bertolini broke his neck in five places, spent five days in a coma, and lost the use of his left arm due to a skiing accident. He left the hospital as soon as he could because “I was sure they would kill me if I stayed there.” Bertolini—who had been into motorcycles, skiing, and bicycle riding—went home and rehabbed. “My journey was about recovering all of those things back into my life,” he said.

Those experiences highlighted for him how “health care in the U.S. is defined in a lot of ways as the absence of disease,” and “what we don’t sell [customers] is a holistic definition of health.”

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