Is Bidencare a bust? Critics say his plan would leave millions uninsured

Biden wants to add a public option to Obamacare. Supporters of Medicare for All say that's not nearly enough

By Igor Derysh
July 16, 2019 9:45PM (UTC)
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(AP/Susan Walsh)

Bernie Sanders' campaign has warned that former Vice President Joe Biden’s new health care plan would leave millions uninsured. Some estimates project that the proposal could lead to thousands of deaths that could be prevented through a universal health care system such as Medicare for All.

Biden has been an outspoken opponent of Medicare for All, falsely claiming at an AARP event that it would destroy Medicare “as you know it” and claiming to The Hill, without evidence, that switching to Medicare for All could cause a one-to-three-year gap in coverage for cancer patients who rely on Obamacare. On Tuesday, Biden rolled out his alternative to the Sanders plan, whose Medicare for All proposal is co-sponsored in the Senate by Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and several other 2020 candidates. The former vice president's proposal calls for preserving Obamacare while creating a public option and increasing subsidies to help pay for private insurance plans.


Biden’s plan would allow people to buy into a government-run insurance program, allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, eliminate the income cap on Obamacare subsidies, and expand Medicaid to roughly 5 million more people.

The Biden campaign claimed in its announcement that this plan would give “every American” access to affordable health insurance, although even the official description of the plan says it would insure “an estimated 97% of Americans.” 

That means Biden’s plan would leave “nearly 10 million people uninsured,” the Sanders campaign said Monday, and would leave tens of millions more with "high co-pays and deductibles that will leave too many people at the mercy of insurers and drug companies."


"Biden's plan would preserve a broken system," the campaign said. "According to a recent survey, as many as one in four adults go without insurance at some point in a given year. That's fifty million people. By age 50, the average worker has held 12 jobs. Under Biden's plan, this broken and fractured system would be maintained."

Larry Levitt, executive vice president of health policy for the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Politico that the plan — which Biden says would cost $750 billion over 10 years — would be easier to implement than an overhaul of the system like Medicare for All, surely a major political selling point. Levitt added, however, that Biden’s plan would still leave “an inefficient and costly health care system in place,” noting that 160 million Americans would still be stuck with high premiums and deductibles.

Matt Bruenig, founder of the People’s Policy Project, projected that Biden’s plan would lead to 125,000 unnecessary deaths from “uninsurance” in its first decade.


“A system that is just like ours but has a public option does not resolve the main problems afflicting our system: uninsurance and the tremendous instability of insurance churn," Bruenig told Politico.

Biden also came under fire for the rollout of his plan. Biden spoke at an AARP forum in Iowa Monday to sell his new plan, warning seniors that if Medicare for All is passed, "Medicare as you know it goes away."


Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, accused Biden of misleading claims and fear-mongering. "He needlessly scared seniors today by telling them that Medicare for All would mean 'Medicare as you know it goes away,'" Lawson wrote. "In fact, Medicare for All would greatly improve the program for current beneficiaries."

Sanders tweeted a video of the AARP audience’s tepid response to Biden’s question about how many people liked their employer-based health care, coupled with a video of the enthusiastic response Sanders received for his Medicare for All plan from the audience at a Fox News town hall in April.

"At the end of the day, you've either got to be on the side of the people or the side of the health insurance companies,” Sanders wrote. “I know which side I'm on."


Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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