July 14, 2020

Former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden last week unveiled a platform crafted by a task force Biden formed with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that aims to ensure "universal health care" in America.

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The Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force

Sanders, who ran against Biden for the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination, and Biden formed the task force after Sanders dropped out of the Democratic presidential primary race earlier this year, FierceHealthcare reports.

The Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force, which includes current and former legislators and public officials, aims to unite Sanders' and Biden's supporters under a series of new policy recommendations. The task force developed a 110-page unity platform that details policy recommendations on topics such as health care, climate change, and criminal justice reform.

Biden's campaign released the platform on Wednesday, and Biden is slated to review the policy recommendations before the Democratic National Convention, which is scheduled to take place next month.

Platform calls for policies to achieve 'universal health care,' support Covid-19 care

Proposals to achieve universal health coverage

The platform includes several health care policy recommendations that aim to achieve "universal" health coverage in America, and many of those recommendations already are reflected in health reform proposals that Biden announced during his campaign.

For example, the platform calls for an affordable government-administered public option health plan available through the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) exchanges to compete with private plans. The platform states, "Private insurers need real competition to ensure they have incentive to provide affordable, quality coverage to every American."

But the platform recommends certain specifics for public option health plans that Biden's proposal doesn't include. For instance, the platform suggests that the public option plan be available with no premium costs to Americans living in states that have not expanded Medicaid. The platform recommends that "low-income people not eligible for Medicaid" should "be automatically enrolled" in the public option health plan "at no cost to them, and [they] may choose to opt out if they wish."

The platform also recommends that all Americans have access to at least one public plan that has no deductible requirements and covers cover primary care without copayments, offers cost control mechanisms for other services, and is administered through the traditional Medicare program. Americans should be able to switch to the no-deductible public option from their employer-sponsored health plans if the choose, the platform suggests. "[W]orking people shouldn't be locked into expensive or insufficient health care plans when better options are available," the platform states.

The platform also recommends policies to ensure that Americans spend no more than 8.5% of their annual incomes on health care premiums, to lift the ACA's current cap on subsidies for exchange plans, and to expand funding for ACA outreach and enrollment programs to "help close the persistent racial gap in insurance rates."

While the platform does call for transition to a single-payer health care system—a policy that's been backed by Sanders—it states that the federal government should encourage states to use the ACA's so-called "innovation waivers" to "experiment with statewide universal health care approaches."

Further, the platform states that introducing the public option would secure universal health coverage throughout the United States. "Everyone will be eligible to choose the public option or another [ACA exchange] plan, even those who currently get insurance through their employers."

Proposals to support Covid-19 care

In light of America's coronavirus epidemic, the platform also includes plans for "crisis coverage," which would "preserve and expand access to high-quality, low-cost health care" throughout the epidemic.

The platform calls for making coronavirus and other public heath testing, vaccines, and treatment available to all Americans at no cost and establishing a 90-day special enrollment period for ACA exchange plans. The platform also suggests that the federal government should cover the cost of COBRA benefits for people who lost their jobs and are unemployed during the epidemic.

In addition, the platform recommends that the federal government recruit 100,000 contact tracers to track the coronavirus' transmission and alert Americans if they've been exposed to someone infected with the virus.

The platform also includes several economic policy recommendations aimed at supporting Americans and small businesses throughout the epidemic.

Other proposals

The platform includes several other proposals related to health care.

For instance, the platform calls for capping out-of-pocket drug costs for older Americans, allowing Medicare to directly negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, and increasing transparency around health care costs and prices. Further, the platform recommends that "vigorou[s] use [of] antitrust laws to fight against mega-mergers in the hospital, insurance, and pharmaceutical industries that would raise prices for patients by undermining market competition."

The platform also calls for doubling the United States' investment in community health centers—a move that Sanders had proposed during his primary campaign—and increasing investments in health science and research. In addition, the platform recommends implementing policies intended to boost the numbers of primary care practitioners, RNs, dentists, and dental therapists in the United States and expand Americans' access to mental health, substance use disorder, and long-term care.

"We are going to at last build the health care system the American people have always deserved: One that finally provides universal health care coverage; reduces prescription drug prices, premiums, and out-of-pocket costs; reins in overall health care expenses; and tackles the deep-seated inequities in our health care system," the platform states. "We will build a health care system that is driven by the needs of patients and the people who care for them, instead of the profit motives of big corporations" (Lotven, Inside Health Policy, 7/8 [subscription required]; Minemyer, FierceHealthcare, 7/9; Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force Recommendations, 7/8).

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