Joe Biden defends Obamacare amid attacks from both flanks
The former vice president is seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination with some rivals advocating a full government-run health scheme.
Joe Biden is taking an aggressive approach to defending the Affordable Care Act, the health legislation widely known as Obamacare amid Democratic Party divisions on the issue.
Mr Biden, who served as Barack Obama’s vice president when the scheme was introduced and is the frontrunner in the contest to win the Democratic Party’s nod for the White House, has set himself apart not only from President Donald Trump but also some of his rivals’ for the nomination.
Some Democratic candidates want to replace the current insurance system with a fully government-run model.
Mr Biden on Monday released a plan that would add a “public option” to the 2010 health care overhaul, with expanded coverage paid for by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
The Affordable Care Act was a historic achievement. 20 million Americans gained coverage. Over 100 million with pre-existing conditions finally got protection. We can’t tear it down.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) July 15, 2019
So today, I’m releasing my plan to Protect & Build on Obamacare: https://t.co/RIhlOcOWK8 pic.twitter.com/laDUcIhRjM
He has repeatedly touted his support for Obamacare during recent stops in early voting states.
In Iowa, Mr Biden declared himself “against any Republican (and) any Democrat who wants to scrap” the health law.
Later in New Hampshire, he said “we should not be scrapping Obamacare, we should be building on it”.
I think one of the most significant things we've done in our administration is pass the Affordable Care Act Joe Biden
Mr Biden hopes his positioning as Obamacare’s chief defender will be a reminder of his close work alongside former president Barack Obama, who remains popular among Democratic voters.
And it could reinforce his pitch as a sensible centrist promising to rise above the strident cacophony of Mr Trump and more liberal Democrats who are single-payer advocates.
The emerging divide between Mr Biden and his progressive rivals could give him an opportunity to go on offence ahead of the next presidential debates at the end of July.
Mr Biden has spent the past several weeks on defence, reversing his position on taxpayer funding for abortions and highlighting his past work with segregationist senators.
Kamala Harris slammed Mr Biden during the first debates, blasting the segregationist comment and criticising his opposition to federal bussing orders to desegregate public schools during the same era.
People say, “Bernie, you’re repetitious, you always say the same things."— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 14, 2019
Well, here’s a promise: when all of our people have health care, when we are leading the world in the fight against climate change, when the poor are no longer struggling, I will change what I’m saying.
Those episodes called Mr Biden’s front-runner status into question, and in New Hampshire over the weekend it was clear he wanted to turn the tables on his rivals backing medicare for all.
“I think one of the most significant things we’ve done in our administration is pass the Affordable Care Act,” Mr Biden said.
“I don’t know why we’d get rid of what in fact was working and move to something totally new. And so, there are differences.”
He argued that some of his opponents, with the exception of Bernie Sanders, are not fairly representing the consequences of their proposals.
“Bernie’s been very honest about it,” Mr Biden said.
“He said you’re going to have to raise taxes on the middle class.
Here it is: my plan to tackle Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, enhance health care and retirement security, reduce skyrocketing prescription drug costs and combat senior fraud and abuse.https://t.co/VGxZOpMuqT— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) July 12, 2019
“He said it’s going to end all private insurance.
“I mean, he’s been straightforward about it. And he’s making his case.”
Mr Sanders will deliver a health care speech on Wednesday and is already hitting back at Mr Biden.
.@DonaldJTrumpJr is in CO this weekend. I guess no one told him @realDonaldTrump can't turn it red. CO is increasingly blue thanks to bold action on health care, climate & the economy, which is No. 1 in America. What we did is a model for the country.https://t.co/5ycL5FQcTG— John Hickenlooper (@Hickenlooper) July 13, 2019
The Vermont senator insists his plan would be a net financial benefit for most households and rejects any suggestion that he has not supported the Affordable Care Act.
“I travelled all over the country to fight the repeal of Obamacare,” Mr Sanders tweeted.
“But I will not be deterred from ending the corporate greed that creates dysfunction in our health care system. We must pass medicare for all.”
Mr Biden’s health care proposal is anchored by a Medicare-like plan that any American, including the 150 million-plus Americans now covered by job-based insurance, could buy on ACA exchanges.
The proposal would make existing premium subsidies more generous and expand eligibility for middle-income households, lowering their out-of-pocket costs.
It also would extend premium-free coverage to lower-income Americans who have been denied access to Medicaid in Republican-run states that refused to participate in the Affordable Care Act.
The campaign puts the taxpayer cost at $750 billion over 10 years, which would be covered by returning the top marginal income tax to 39.6%, the rate before the 2017 Republican tax cuts.
Some multimillionaires also would lose certain capital gains tax advantages.
Biden’s aides framed his plan as more fiscally responsible and politically realistic than a single-payer overhaul.
The idea behind a public option is to extend coverage to those who cannot afford decent private coverage, while forcing corporate insurers to compete alongside the government, theoretically pressuring those private firms to lower their premiums and out-of-pocket costs for their policy holders.
The dynamics illustrate Democrats’ overall leftward shift on health care.
A decade ago, the public option was effectively the left-flank for Democrats, a reality made obvious when Mr Obama angered House liberals by jettisoning the provision to mollify some centrist Senate Democrats.
Now, after Mr Sanders’ insurgent 2016 presidential bid and his promise of “health care as a human right”, the left has embraced single-payer, with moderates moving to the public option.
Some Democratic White House hopefuls are joining Mr Biden in advocating for the public option, arguing it will be difficult to go much further.
Now is an opportunity for Senators Sanders, Warren, Harris, and others to reconsider their Medicare for All approach, and stand behind a public option that is the quickest and best way to achieve universal coverage, unify the party, and defeat Donald Trump.— Michael Bennet (@MichaelBennet) July 15, 2019
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet greeted Mr Biden’s proposal with a reminder that he has been pushing a public option on Capitol Hill.
He urged his colleagues Senate colleagues, including Mr Sanders, Ms Harris and Elizabeth Warren, to “reconsider their Medicare for All approach”.
Mr Bennet and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar are among the moderates arguing that a public option is the next logical move even for single-payer advocates.
“I think it is a beginning and the way you start and the way you move to universal health care,” Ms Klobuchar said in the first debate.
Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper is more frank, warning that Republicans will brand single-payer proposals as “socialism” and reclaim the health care advantage the party enjoyed in the 2018 midterms.
Mr Trump has been a frequent critic of Obamacare and has vowed to replace it.