Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, during a campaign event on Monday called for allowing all U.S. residents to have the option to buy into Medicare—but he did not call for moving the United States to a single-payer health system.
Biden endorses creating a public option health plan
Biden said implementing a public option health plan would give U.S. residents the choice between enrolling in government-run or private health insurance. "Whether you're covered through your employer or on your own or not, you all should have a choice to be able to buy into a public option plan for Medicare," he said, adding, "Your choice. And if the insurance company isn't doing the right thing by you, you should have another choice."
A policy adviser for Biden who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Washington Post that Biden supports creating a public option Medicare plan that U.S. residents could enroll in via the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) exchanges. Employers also would be able to buy into the plan for their workers, the adviser said.
Biden also said policymakers must protect the ACA. "Affordable health care was a huge step forward, the ACA in our country," Biden said. He continued, "We have to stop [the Trump] administration's effort to gut it first, and then we have to move on and finish the job and make health care a right." Biden said, "Health care is a right, not a privilege."
'Medicare for All' absent from Biden's speech
But Biden did not express support for so-called "Medicare-for-All" proposals that would shift the United States to a single-payer health system, highlighting a divide among Democratic policymakers and presidential candidates.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who also is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) have released competing Medicare-for-All bills that would transition the U.S. health system to a single-payer system. The proposals have attracted several Democratic sponsors, but have been critically panned by Republicans and industry stakeholders. The House Rules Committee on Tuesday is scheduled to hold the first-ever congressional hearing on the proposals.
According to the Post, Biden's policy adviser said Biden shares the goal of "achiev[ing] universal health care," but thinks policymakers should build on the ACA and implement more incremental approaches instead of replacing the United States' current health care system with a single-payer system (Sullivan, The Hill, 4/29; Larsen, Washington Examiner, 4/29; Stein, Washington Post, 4/29; Owens, "Vitals," Axios, 4/30).
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