During his first speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, President Joe Biden said that "healthcare should be a right, not a privilege in America."
To which Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) responded: "If you say you believe healthcare is a right and not a privilege, [then] support Medicare for All."
Despite pressure from Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate as well as dozens of advocacy groups, Biden declined to propose lowering Medicare's eligibility age from 65 to 60—let alone providing Medicare to every person in the country—in his American Families Plan, the $1.8 trillion social spending and tax reform package he showcased on Wednesday.
In his speech, the president did call on Congress to "lower prescription drug costs" by giving "Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower drug prescription prices." He said that the savings could be used to "expand Medicare coverage and benefits without costing taxpayers an additional penny."
And yet, Biden chose not to include any Medicare-related provisions in his American Families Plan.
Ahead of Biden's Wednesday night address to Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) declared in a video that "we've got to deal with healthcare."
Expanding access to and improving Medicare is popular across political party lines, according to polling results (pdf) released last week by Data for Progress.
Although most voters support lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 55, reducing it to zero is even more popular.
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Seventy-two percent of Fox News viewers said last year that they favor "changing to a government-run healthcare plan," a reflection of the extent to which Americans are fed up with either being deprived of health insurance or paying exorbitant amounts of money for it under an employment-based, for-profit model.
In his speech, Biden acknowledged that "the pandemic has demonstrated how badly [healthcare] is needed," but critics noted the chasm between that statement and what is currently on offer from the president, who has been adamant in his opposition to Medicare for All.
Biden campaigning on a public option, then shitting on Medicare for All, then putting out a fact sheet touting a Medicare expansion, then saying health care is a human right but also not mentioning a public option & pushing insurance subsidies...and doing it amid a pandemic...wow— David Sirota (@davidsirota) April 29, 2021
Public Citizen published a report last month showing that Medicare for All likely would have prevented millions of Covid-19 infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths nationwide. According to the advocacy group, roughly 40% of coronavirus infections and 33% of resultant deaths in the U.S. up to that point were associated with a lack of health insurance.
Before the pandemic, around 87 million Americans were already uninsured or underinsured. In the past year, millions more have been thrown off their employer-provided coverage due to widespread job losses.
Apparently, even a national Covid-19 death toll of nearly 575,000 isn't enough to convince Biden to embrace Medicare for All. The president didn't even include a modest expansion of Medicare beneficiaries and benefits in his American Families Plan, although progressive lawmakers have vowed to fight for its inclusion.
Biden, who pays lip service to universal coverage as he opposes a single-payer health insurance system, remains committed to promoting the Affordable Care Act and has expressed support for a public option, even though health experts have stressed that such an approach would not eliminate burdensome co-pays and deductibles and would still leave millions uninsured.
The Congressional Budget Office has shown that implementing a single-payer system would guarantee high-quality care for every person in the U.S. while reducing overall spending by an estimated $650 billion per year.
Earlier this year, a Lancet panel of policy experts and medical professionals argued that "single-payer, Medicare for All reform is the only way forward" in the wake of the devastation wrought by the coronavirus crisis, which was preceded by "decades of healthcare inequality, privatization, and profiteering."