Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday accused 2020 Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden of parroting insurance and pharmaceutical industry talking points after the former vice president raised alarm about the supposedly high price tag of Medicare for All and suggested the transition to a single-payer system would leave people with gaps in health coverage.
"Obviously what Biden was doing is what the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industries, Republicans, do: ignoring the fact that people will save money on their healthcare."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
Campaigning in New Hampshire on Saturday, Biden said he wants to expand the Affordable Care Act and add a public option, claiming such incremental steps wouldn't "cost $3 trillion, and it can be done quickly."
"I don't know why we'd get rid of what in fact is working and move to something totally new," Biden said. "And so, there are differences."
Medicare for All advocates—including Sanders, the lead sponsor of the Medicare for All Act of 2019 in the Senate—argue that the ACA is not working, pointing to the tens of millions of Americans who are uninsured or under-insured.
In an interview with the New York Times on Sunday, Sanders called Biden's attack on Medicare for All "totally absurd."
"Obviously what Biden was doing is what the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industries, Republicans, do: ignoring the fact that people will save money on their healthcare because they will no longer have to pay premiums or out-of-pocket expenses," said the Vermont senator. "They will no longer have high deductibles and high co-payments."
"The charge that he's making," Sanders added, "is exactly what the Republicans are saying."
Biden's remarks in New Hampshire capped off several days of attacks on Medicare for All by the former vice president, even as polling released last week showed that two-thirds of Democratic voters support moving to a single-payer system that abolishes private insurance.
In a CNN interview published online Monday, Biden—who came under fire in April for attending a fundraiser hosted by a health insurance CEO just hours after launching his 2020 presidential bid—said it would be a "sin" to attempt to replace the ACA with Medicare for All.
Following that remark, Medicare for All advocates pounced on Biden's characterization of the proposal:
No, Joe. The sin is 27 million Americans uninsured, 87 million more underinsured, employers spending 20k a year per employee on healthcare costs, and worse health outcomes. #MedicareForAll is the penance.https://t.co/Q9aLrnW7rk
— Business Initiative for Health Policy (@BizHealthPol) July 9, 2019
On Friday, Biden told a crowd in New Hampshire that while Medicare for All proponents "mean well," he doesn't "want to start over."
"How many of you out there have had someone you've lost to cancer? Or cancer yourself? No time, man," said Biden. "We cannot have a hiatus of six months, a year, two, three, to get something done."
Sanders responded to Biden's comments in a statement on Saturday, and announced that he will "confront the Democratic opponents of Medicare for All" in greater detail in a speech in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.
"At a time when Donald Trump and the health insurance industry are lying every day about Medicare for All," Sanders said, "I would hope that my fellow Democrats would not resort to misinformation about my legislation."
The senator continued:
Here are the facts. Under Medicare for All, over a four-year period, we will transition to a system in which Medicare is expanded to cover every man, woman, and child in the country.
It is preposterous to argue that as we expand Medicare for All that people with cancer and other illnesses will not get the care that they need. In fact, under Medicare for All, the good news is that we will end the horror of millions of people going into bankruptcy and financial distress simply because they need hospital care for serious conditions.
We have a healthcare crisis in this country. Every day, Americans die because they cannot afford the healthcare they desperately need, while the CEOs of insurance and drug companies get rich off their suffering. We cannot continue to tinker around the edges while 80 million Americans lack health insurance or are under-insured with high premiums, co-pays, and deductibles.
In an analysis of Biden's attacks on Medicare for All published last week, Splinter's Libby Watson wrote that the former vice president is propagating "an asinine and entirely wrong interpretation of what Medicare for All is" and—like Sanders—accused Biden of echoing insurance industry scare tactics.
Under Sanders's proposed legislation, Watson noted, "There would be no period in which neither the ACA nor Medicare for All would be in place, and the old, bad, Wild West of pre-ACA insurance, where insurers could deny you care based on preexisting conditions and sell you plans that didn't cover essential services, would be revived."
"So, the implication of saying Medicare for All supporters want to 'dismantle' the ACA is that there would be some period of nothingness in between," Watson wrote. "Biden implies this because what voters who currently have access to healthcare fear more than anything is losing that access, which is why the Republican attempt to repeal the ACA failed."
"Biden implies this," Watson added, "because he wants to scare people away from Medicare for All."