Biden Healthcare Plan Draws Contrast With White House Rivals

By John Whitesides and Mike Stone

July 16, 2019

WASHINGTON, July 15 (Reuters) - Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden unveiled a $750 billion healthcare plan on Monday that he said would strengthen the Affordable Care Act, drawing a contrast with rivals who back a more sweeping "Medicare for All" government-run system.

Biden portrayed White House rivals led by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who back a single-payer plan that eliminates private insurance, as a threat to former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law known as Obamacare.

"I understand the appeal of Medicare for All. But folks supporting it should be clear that it means getting rid of Obamacare, and I'm not for that," Biden, who was Obama's vice president for eight years, said in a video.

Sanders is the lead Senate sponsor of a Medicare for All bill that would shift Americans into a Medicare-based, single-payer government-run system that eliminates private insurance. Medicare is the government insurance plan for the elderly.

Four other White House candidates in the U.S. Senate - Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts - also support the proposal, which has become one of the primary points of contention in the Democratic race to select a nominee to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in 2020.

Obamacare, a longtime target of Trump and other Republicans who have tried to repeal it, is a popular program with Democrats.

Biden's healthcare plan, estimated to cost $750 billion over 10 years and paid for partly by higher taxes on the wealthy, would include a public option that would let people enroll in a paid government healthcare plan that exists alongside private insurance.

"We have to protect and build on Obamacare," Biden said in the video.

Sanders responded that he had fought to improve and pass Obamacare and protect the law from Republican efforts to repeal it.

"But I will not be deterred from ending the corporate greed that creates dysfunction in our healthcare system. We must pass Medicare for All," Sanders said on Twitter.

U.S. Senator Michael Bennet from Colorado, another Democratic presidential contender, called on Sanders, Warren, Harris and other Democratic contenders to reconsider their support for Medicare for All.

"I have worked to deliver universal health care with a Medicare-X public option plan for years, and I'm pleased Vice President Biden today introduced a very similar plan," Bennet said.

Biden would pay for the plan partly by rolling back the "Trump tax cuts for the wealthy and return the top rate to 39.6%," a senior Biden campaign official who briefed reporters on Sunday said. The top income tax rate is currently 37 percent.

In addition, Biden's plan calls for people earning over $1 million a year to pay double the tax they now pay on long-term gains made in the stock market. That rate is currently 20% for the highest earners.

Biden's plan would increase the value of tax credits received by people who use the plan, a move designed to help them lower their premiums.

In addition, Biden would seek to repeal the existing law that prohibits Medicare from negotiating lower prices with drug companies.