Joe Biden alleges Pete Buttigieg "stole" his health care plan

Sniping in the "moderate" lane! But actually, a lot of candidates have expressed support for similar plans

Published December 3, 2019 4:15PM (EST)

Democratic presidential candidates South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Vice President Joe Biden (Scott Olson/Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidates South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Vice President Joe Biden (Scott Olson/Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Former Vice President Joe Biden has accused South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, his fast-rising rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, of stealing his health care proposal.

Biden, who has been the consistent frontrunner in the ever-shiftting Democratic primary field, has proposed expanding the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, the signature legislation of former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served. Biden has suggested adding a "public option" to the ACA that would allow individuals to opt into a government-run plan. His plan would preserve the existing role of private insurers.

"He stole it," Biden said of Buttigieg in a wide-ranging interview with reporters aboard his campaign bus in Iowa. "It's the Biden plan."

The former vice president then accused the media of being more lenient on Buttigieg, arguing his competitor had once supported a more progressive "Medicare for All" plan but then pivoted. Biden went on to say that if he had voiced support for one plan then shifted toward another measure that looked like an opponent's, the media would have been tough on him.

"What would you have done to me? You would have torn my ears off," Biden told reporters. "I would be a plagiarizing, no good, old man who did bum bum bum."

Buttigieg aides have previously claimed there is no contradiction between the mayor's current and past positions.

Buttigieg, like Biden, has expressed support for a public option. He has embraced a plan he calls "Medicare for All Who Want It" — his spin on Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All" slogan — that he says would keep private insurance but allow all Americans the option of joining a government-run program. Buttigieg has released ads in Iowa highlighting his health care plan and has surged to first place in many recent polls in the first-in-the-nation caucus state. Among moderate Democrats who might not be sold on Biden, Buttigieg has pitched himself as a younger, more energetic and more articulate alternative.

A spokesperson for Buttigieg's campaign declined to comment but pointed to statements by Buttigieg about "Medicare for All Who Want It" made months before Biden jumped into the presidential race.

Several other presidential hopefuls — including Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland and self-help author Marianne Williamson — have also voiced support for a public option. (As did Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who suspended her campaign Tuesday.) Indeed, while the term "public option" is discussed often on the campaign trail, what it means varies widely among the candidates who support it. Some seeking the nomination see a public option as a means to an end. Others see it as an end state in itself.

"The general idea of a public option is that everyone would have the option to purchase or buy into a government-run health program like Medicare, but they wouldn't necessarily be automatically enrolled in it. Private health insurances would continue to exist and compete with the government-sponsored plan," Erin Fuse Brown, a law professor at Georgia State University and co-author of "Health Law: Cases, Materials and Problems," previously told Salon.

The variations in public option proposals put forth by a host of contenders have received far less attention compared to Medicare for All, despite their ubiquity on the campaign trail and generally lower costs. Those proposals range from modest reforms to overhauls so wide-ranging they resemble Medicare for All. Others fall somewhere in the middle, offering incremental reforms that could lead to a single-payer system over the long term.

So far, the health care debate among Democrats vying to take on President Trump in 2020 has largely focused on "Medicare for All," the plan popularized by Sanders. It would would eliminate private insurance and use a single government insurance plan to cover every American. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, generally support this approach.

Health care has emerged as the top policy issue for American voters, according to various polls of the 2020 race. Democratic presidential candidates have clashed over health care at every primary debate so far.

By Shira Tarlo

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