Biden aggressively defends health law known as ‘Obamacare’

JOE Biden is taking an aggressive approach to defending the Affordable Care Act (ACA), challenging not just United States (US) President Donald Trump but also some of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination who want to replace the current insurance system with a fully government-run model.

The former US vice president will spend much of the coming week talking about his approach to healthcare, including his unveiling yesterday of a plan that would add a “public option” to the 2010 healthcare overhaul, with expanded coverage paid for by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

Biden’s almost singular focus on former US president Barack Obama’s health care law, often called ‘Obamacare’, has been on display recently in early voting states.

In Iowa, Biden declared himself “against any Republican (and) any Democrat who wants to scrap” the ACA. Later in New Hampshire, he said “we should not be scrapping Obamacare, we should be building on it.”

Biden hopes his positioning as Obamacare’s chief defender helps him on several fronts. It’s a reminder of his close work alongside Obama, who remains popular among Democratic voters.

And it could reinforce Biden’s pitch as a sensible centrist promising to rise above the strident cacophony of Trump and Democrats like Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, all single-payer advocates.

Former United States vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at a campaign stop in Londonderry, New Hampshire last Saturday. – AP

Biden’s proposal, outlined by advisors ahead of its release, is anchored by a “Medicare-like” plan that any American, including the 150 million-plus Americans now covered by job-based insurance, could buy on ACA exchanges.

The proposal would make existing subsidies more generous and make more middle-income households eligible for them, lowering their out-of-pocket costs.

It also would extend premium-free coverage to lower-income Americans who have been denied eligibility to Medicaid in Republican-run states that refused to participate in the ACA.

The campaign puts the taxpayer cost at USD750 billion over 10 years, with the campaign saying that would be covered by returning the top marginal income tax to 39.6 per cent, the rate before the 2017 GOP tax cuts. Some multimillionaires also would lose certain capital gains tax advantages.

Biden’s aides framed his plan as more fiscally responsible and politically realistic than a single-payer overhaul. The idea behind a public option is to extend coverage to those who can’t afford decent private coverage, while forcing corporate insurers to compete alongside the government, theoretically pressuring those private firms to lower their premiums and out-of-pocket costs for their policy holders.

Perhaps as important to Biden’s campaign prospects, the Obamacare emphasis is an opportunity for Biden to go on the offence ahead of the next presidential debates at the end of July.

Biden has spent the past several weeks on defence, reversing his position on taxpayer funding for abortions and highlighting his past work with segregationist senators.

Harris slammed Biden during the first debates, blasting the segregationist comment and criticising his opposition to federal busing orders to desegregate public schools during the same era.

Those episodes called Biden’s front-runner status into question, and in New Hampshire last weekend it was clear Biden wanted to turn the tables on his rivals backing “Medicare for All”. AP