Speaking at an event Monday in front of the Colorado Capitol, U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) committed to fighting for health care equity, saying Congress has the responsibility to both expand health care coverage and lower costs.

“Every American has a right to health care that is not only affordable but also high quality and accessible,” Hickenlooper said at the event.

The event itself was hosted by Protect Our Care, a national progressive health care advocacy group touring the country in a bus with “Protect Our Care: Fighting for lower costs and better care,” written on the side.

“Care Force One” parked in the shadow of Colorado’s Capitol building.

Protect Our Care’s bus tour is, in part, meant to emphasize the health care provisions in the reconciliation package currently in negotiations in Congress. Expanding Medicaid and ensuring Medicare has the ability to negotiate prescription drug prices are two health care priorities of the package.

With the tour bus, nicknamed “Care Force One,” serving as the event’s background, Hickenlooper was joined by state lawmakers and local advocates to highlight the health care achievements already accomplished in Colorado and the next steps needed at both the state and national levels.

Hickenlooper praised the action taken with Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan and promoted expanding Medicaid. The former governor has been pragmatic with his approach to health care in the past, supporting some form of a public option during his Senate campaign.

Hickenlooper also said he is recovered from a breakthrough case of COVID-19 that he was diagnosed with earlier this month.

State Sen. Julie Gonzales (D-Denver) advocates for health care reform.

State Sen. Julie Gonzales (D-Denver) spoke at the event as well, highlighting the work Colorado’s Legislature did in passing health care bills to help Coloradans. Gonzales was a prime sponsor of a bill passed into law that made Colorado the first state with the ability to set upper price limits on prescription drugs.

“People are being forced to make impossible choices because we, as Americans, are navigating multiple crises simultaneously,” Gonzales said at the event. “And we have a choice as lawmakers. We can say, ‘I’m sorry that’s happening to you,’ or we can actually take action. … “Please hear me clearly: no one should ever have to choose between keeping the lights on and paying for their medication.”

Gonzales said the partnership between state lawmakers and Colorado’s congressional delegation is going to be essential to passing meaningful health care reform in the future. Gonzales specifically discussed granting Medicare negotiating powers — something nine in 10 Americans support, according to a recent poll — and how the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on certain communities were compounded by a broken health care system.

“Thousands of Coloradans lost their health insurance which made affording their prescription drugs even more difficult,” Gonzales said “A legacy of overlapping inequity has impacted communities of color and low-income Coloradans in very stark ways. We are more likely to have chronic diseases that require prescription drugs, and we also face heightened barriers to access and affordability.”

Laura Packard, a Denver-based health care advocate and stage-four cancer survivor, shared her personal experience with the health care system at the event.

Laura Packard shares her story at the Protect Our Care event Monday.

Packard explained that the Affordable Care Act saved her life as the legislation made her cancer treatment and medication more affordable. However, Packard explained, there were still high costs she had to consider during her treatment.

During her chemotherapy treatment, Packard was prescribed medicine that would boost her immune system. After taking into account the high price tag of the medicine and her other health care costs, Packard decided to forego the medicine.

“I wound up in the hospital, and nearly died,” Packard said. “Sadly, stories like these are all too common in our country. Patients should be able to focus on getting well, not struggling to pay for medications.”

Packard said that Congress needs to act now to lower the costs of prescription drugs and thanked the federal and state lawmakers in attendance for their work and their commitment to continue fighting for patients like her.

“Nobody should be forced into making these choices,” Packard said at the event. “But we have a chance to do something about it. As the richest country in the world, we can afford this. Why do we pay more for our drugs than anywhere else in the country? The drug I was prescribed was built on research that we, as taxpayers, already paid for. But we pay again and again and too many of us cannot pay any more.”

Denver is one of the last stops on the Protect Our Care bus tour, which is traveling over 8,600 miles and making stops in 17 states across the country.