Former Vice President Joe Biden is fleshing out his 2020 healthcare vision, but it falls far short of what is needed to address the healthcare affordability emergency.

In a recent interview with WHO-TV in Iowa, Biden explained that he thought Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), who initially proposed a single-payer, “Medicare for All” healthcare system in January of 2016, was “wrong” in his approach to reforming the American healthcare system. Biden says his healthcare plan is unique from plans offered by any other candidate running for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Specifically, Biden said his plan would build on Obamacare by adding on a public option that Americans who don’t like their private options could buy into, and would increase private health insurance subsidies to where Americans wouldn’t have a copay larger than $1,000. He also promised that any American who liked their employer-provided healthcare plan would be able to keep it.

However, there are several mischaracterizations in Biden’s plan. First, the former vice president overstates the benefits of a public health insurance option. In 2013, a Congressional Budget Office review determined that a public option would only lower the price of monthly health insurance premiums by 7% to 8%. In 2018, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that on average, a monthly premium for self-care coverage was $574. This means at most, a public option would save someone an average of $45.92 per month in premium costs.

Second of all, it’s never been true that if someone likes their employer-sponsored health insurance, they can keep it. As a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found in 2017, roughly one in four Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 experienced a period of being uninsured over the course of a year. This can be due to the loss of a job, the death of a spouse or parent who had an employer-based family health insurance plan, or employers changing plans to cut costs.

And thirdly, Biden is mischaracterizing Sanders’ plan in implying that Americans would lose their health insurance under a Medicare for All system. As Sanders’ legislation has stipulated, the transition from a for-profit healthcare system to a single-payer system would happen over four years, and a public option would be put in place immediately while the Medicare eligibility age was gradually lowered over the four-year period.

Most importantly, Biden seems to be unaware that millions of Americans can’t afford a $400 emergency, let alone a $1,000 copay for getting healthcare services. Earlier this year, a Federal Reserve report found that 40% of Americans are financially unable to pay for a $400 emergency expense without having to take on debt, borrow from a friend or relative, or sell some of their possessions.

Much of Americans’ financial woes stem from the healthcare affordability emergency. As Grit Post reported in December, more than a third of people under 35 reported having to postpone or cancel healthcare services due to financial concerns.

“This has been a year of a lot of health expenses that I didn’t expect,” Magee Project assistant director Maya Miller told Grit Post in 2018. “I’ve been trying to see all of my doctors in the last four or five months before my insurance expires. I have to wonder where I will be in a year. Will it cost $100 a month, or $500? Will I be able to afford it? I spent $400 last month on deductible stuff, and I have to ask myself do I pay that, or do I go to the grocery store, or get my car fixed?”

Medicare for All — specifically as a single-payer healthcare system that would overhaul private, for-profit health insurance plans over time — has been popular with a majority of Americans since February of 2016. Polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 50% of Americans supported Medicare for All, while 43% opposed it, starting in early 2016. Ever since then, Medicare for All has remained popular with a majority of Americans. In July of 2019, 51% of Americans supported the proposal.

(Featured image: WHO-TV/Twitter)


Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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