Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) gave a fiery speech in defense of his “Medicare for All” plan on Wednesday, escalating the fight between himself and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE on a key policy issue that divides grass-roots liberals and centrist Democrats.
Sanders demanded that his rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination reject campaign contributions from health insurance and drug companies, which was seen as a swipe at Biden, who has held large-dollar fundraisers with wealthy contributors from the health care industry.
“Now is not the time for tinkering around the edges, and now is not the time for taking money and large campaign contributions from the insurance companies and drug companies,” Sanders said to a small, friendly crowd at George Washington University in the nation’s capital.
Sanders’s speech comes amid an intensifying clash between the top 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls over the way forward for the party on health care.
Democrats took over the House in 2018 in part by pledging to protect the Affordable Care Act, more widely known as ObamaCare, but has now found itself deeply divided over how far to go in remaking the country’s health care system.
While Sanders’s Medicare for All plan has been embraced by other top presidential candidates, such as Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.), Biden, the front-runner in the race, has said it will hurt seniors and repeal ObamaCare.
Biden rankled Sanders and his supporters on Monday when he told an audience of seniors at an AARP event that under Medicare for All, “Medicare goes away as you know it. All the Medicare you have is gone.”
Sanders appeared to respond to Biden’s comments Wednesday, saying: “Despite what you’re hearing about Medicare for seniors being weakened, the truth is exactly the opposite. It will be strengthened by providing benefits to seniors that they today don’t have.”
Sanders’s plan would provide dental and vision benefits to seniors, which isn’t currently covered by the Medicare program.
Before Sanders’s speech, his campaign tweeted a video accusing Biden of “lying about Medicare for All.”
“We won’t mention his name, but it might be a former vice president of the United States,” Sanders said in the video.
“Look, I think it’s important that we have a health care debate on the facts and not on fear-mongering.”
Biden said this week that he understands the “appeal” of Medicare for All, but that implementing it would mean “getting rid of Obamacare.”
“I knew the Republicans would do everything in their power to try and repeal ObamaCare,” he said. “But I’m surprised that so many Democrats are running on getting rid of it. I know how hard it was to get passed. Starting over just makes no sense to me.”
Sanders fired back, saying he fought to pass ObamaCare and traveled all over the country to defend it.
“But I will not be deterred from ending the corporate greed that creates dysfunction in our health care system,” Sanders said. “We must pass Medicare for All.”
ObamaCare has become more popular since it was signed into law in 2011. Biden’s own health care plan, released this week, would build on ObamaCare’s framework while adding a new public option and beefing up the tax credits that help people buy insurance.
Some centrist Democrats have warned that the party will face steep losses in 2020 if their candidate runs on Medicare for All, which does not have broad support among the general public.
In addition to Biden, several other moderate Democratic contenders — Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetSome realistic solutions for income inequality Democratic senators kneel during moment of silence for George Floyd 21 senators urge Pentagon against military use to curb nationwide protests MORE (Colo.), former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn HickenlooperGun control group rolls out first round of Senate endorsements The Hill’s Campaign Report: Republicans go on attack over calls to ‘defund the police’ Hickenlooper ethics questions open him up to attack MORE and former Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyThe Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what ‘policing’ means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight Minnesota AG Keith Ellison says racism is a bigger problem than police behavior; 21 states see uptick in cases amid efforts to reopen The Hill’s Coronavirus Report: Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan says there will be consequences from fraying US-China relations; WHO walks back claims on asymptomatic spread of virus MORE (Md.) — have warned that Medicare for All will be viewed as government overreach and a gift to President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE as he seeks to cast Democrats as socialists.
“Colorado would be at risk if Bernie Sanders is the nominee,” Bennet said in Iowa this week. “[Medicare for All is] a tough burden to carry in a state like Colorado.”
Opponents of Medicare for All also point to its massive price tag: $32 trillion over 10 years, according to one study.
Sanders has pushed back, pointing to recent public opinion surveys that show a single-payer system rising in popularity. While taxes would increase, he says, Americans would no longer have to pay the costs associated with health insurance, including copays and deductibles.
“Study after study shows Medicare for All would be more cost effective,” Sanders said Wednesday.
The general sense from health care experts is that Medicare for All polls well on its own, but support drops when people are told that it would eliminate private insurance and result in increased taxes.
Still, there is enormous energy on the left for Medicare for All, and Sanders is betting that drawing contrasts between himself and Biden on the issue will give him a boost with the progressive base.
The Vermont senator has pointed to former President Obama’s past praise for Medicare for All to make the case that it’s time for all Democrats to rally behind it.
Sanders is chasing Biden, who leads in most public opinion surveys, even as he seeks to beat back challenges from Harris and Warren, who have been rising in the polls.
Both Warren and Harris have said they support Medicare for All, although Harris has been unclear on whether she supports higher taxes or eliminating private health insurers altogether, as Sanders’s plan does.
Sanders on Wednesday called on all of his rivals to unequivocally back his plan.
“The time is now to go forward,” Sanders said. “The time is now to expand Medicare to every man, woman and child in this country.”
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