August 12, 2020

Weekly line: Kamala Harris is Biden's VP pick—but they've clashed on health care

Daily Briefing

    Editor's note: While Daily Briefing typically publishes "Weekly line" on Fridays, we are publishing this week's coverage today, in light of the breaking news that Former Vice President Joe Biden has picked Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate.

    Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee for this year's presidential election, on Tuesday announced that he's selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his vice-presidential running mate.

    Welcome to the Covid-19 presidential election

    Biden's selection of Harris is notable for many reasons: Chiefly, Harris is the first woman of color to appear on a major political party's presidential ticket in the United States.

    But what's also notable is that Biden and Harris have clashed on some major health care policies in the past, particularly when it comes to Medicare for All. Here's where Harris stands on key health care issues—and where she and Biden aren't aligned.

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    Where Harris stands on health care

    Harris was elected to the Senate in 2016 and was sworn into office in January 2017—and she's been serving as a senator representing California since. Before she was elected to the Senate, Harris served as California's first female attorney general. She's also served as San Francisco's district attorney.

    Harris had sought the Democratic Party's 2020 nomination for president, running against Biden and nearly two dozen other candidates for the spot before ending her campaign in December of last year. But her time serving in public offices and campaigning has given voters insight into where she stands on some major health care issues:

    • Abortion and reproductive rights
    • Harris is one of Planned Parenthood's most vocal supporters, and she has voted against legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. She's also said, if she was elected president, she would direct the Department of Justice to review state laws concerning abortion requirements before they take effect to ensure they are legal under the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.

    • Health care reform
    • Harris in 2018 announced her support for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) Medicare-for-All proposal, and she co-sponsored Sanders' 2017 Medicare-for-All legislation. During her presidential campaign, Harris initially indicated that she supported transitioning the United States to a single-payer health system that would largely eliminate private health insurance.

      However, she later walked back those indications, instead saying she supported implementing a Medicare-for-All proposal that would mostly transition the country to a single-payer health system but would still allow private insurance to function as supplemental coverage.

      Harris later proposed her own Medicare-for-All proposal that differed from Sanders' in how her plan would be phased in, in that it would allow private insurers to offer Medicare plans under the system, and in how the new system would be financed.

    • Maternal health care
    • Harris has introduced legislation intended to reduce the United States' maternal mortality rate, particularly among Black women.

    • Mental health care
    • Harris has introduced legislation that seeks to increase Americans' access to mental health care.

    • Prescription drug costs
    • Harris in July 2019 released a plan to lower U.S. drug prices that focused on establishing a so-called "fair price" for prescription drugs sold in the United States that is tied to the lower prices paid for the medications in other developed nations. In addition, Harris said she would implement a 100% tax rate on all profits drugmakers receive from selling drugs in the United States above that "fair price," and she would use funds collected from the tax to provide consumers with rebates. Harris also called for allowing HHS to import prescription drugs from countries where they are priced lower, investigating whether pharmaceutical companies take part in price gouging for prescription drugs or anticompetitive practices, and having the federal government revoke a drugmakers' patent for a prescription drug if the treatment was developed with the help of federal funds and the drugmaker was found to have participated in price gouging.

    Where Harris and Biden clash—and agree—on health care

    Harris' presidential campaign also allowed voters to see where Harris and Biden clash on health care issues, and their biggest divergence was over Medicare for All.

    While Harris has supported Medicare-for-All proposals, Biden has strongly opposed them. Instead, Biden has called for implementing a public option health plan that would give Americans a choice between enrolling in government-run or private health insurance.

    Biden has said his health reform plan aims to achieve universal health coverage in part through building on and protecting the Affordable Care Act. Specifically, his plan would eliminate the current income cap for receiving federal subsidies intended to help offset the cost of exchange plans and increase the amount of subsidies exchange plan enrollees could receive.

    In addition, Biden's proposal calls for creating a public option health plan that would serve as an alternative to traditional insurance plans, with premium rates for patients and payment rates for providers all set by the government. The public option plan would compete with private health plans on the market and would be available to all Americans, including individuals whose employers offer health coverage.

    Biden has raised concerns about how much Medicare-for-All proposals would cost and the tax burden that would be associated with implementing such a system. In addition, Biden has said Medicare-for-All proposals would take away Americans' ability to choose their health coverage and force them out of their existing coverage by largely eliminating private health plans.

    But although Biden and Harris clash on Medicare for All, there are some key health care issues on which they largely agree. For instance, Biden generally supports abortion rights and has said he backs the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. In addition, Biden's health plan calls for the nationwide implementation of a strategy used by the state of California to address maternal mortality rates, as well as the expansion of funding for mental health services and ensuring enforcement of mental health parity laws.

    Further, Biden's health reform plan calls for lowering prescription drug costs in the United States by allowing patients to purchase drugs from foreign countries and creating a system to link prices for new specialty drugs to those in foreign countries.

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