Biden Says He “Gets” Our Dysfunctional Healthcare System. Then Says He Will Continue Supporting It.

Biden makes clear that even in a pandemic, he will not support Medicare For All.

You can learn a lot about a candidate by visiting their campaign website. At there are a number of statements which emphasize the importance of leadership. In terms of the Covid-19 crisis, the website states that, “We need transparent, empathetic leadership in this moment of crisis for the American people.” He also states that “he will protect the Affordable Care Act from continued attacks. He opposes every effort to get rid of this historic law — including efforts by Republicans, and efforts by Democrats.” The Democratic Party nominee-in-waiting is quite clear that he will support maintaining the Affordable Care Act, and resist attempts by members of his own party to push for a Medicare For All health care program.

In a July 14th speech in his home state of Delaware, Biden stated, “Mr. President, please listen to your public health experts instead of denigrating them.” This statement amounts to a plea for President Trump to listen to the experts, and to allow science to solve the pandemic and not let political ambitions get in the way. But why should former Vice President Biden ask for President Trump to listen to public health care officials when he refuses to do the same?

There have been a number of studies from public health officials (here, here, and here) that show that a single payer, national health care plan would produce much better health care outcomes during normal times, as well as during the current pandemic, than through the current privatized health care system that is showing itself to be wholly inadequate. The graph below shows how the United States has mishandled the response to the Covid-19 crisis compared to countries with socialized medicine.

Image: CDC/Public Citizen

No healthcare system is going to be perfect in dealing with a pandemic. But the graph clearly demonstrates the inadequacy of the for- profit United States healthcare system in dealing with the coronavirus. It also suggests that socialized medicine has built in qualities that make it more adept at dealing with a crisis such as Covid-19.

So what are the benefits of socialized medicine that make it better suited to deal with the challenges of the coronavirus? The first, and perhaps most important is that a person who has contracted the virus will not go into debt or face bankruptcy by receiving an expensive bill for treatment. The high cost of treatment means many workers will avoid getting tested. A second benefit would be to better coordinate a response with leadership coming at the federal level. A third benefit would be to greatly reduce the unequal effects of the coronavirus on the poor and minority group members, many of whom currently have no health insurance and are suffering in disproportionate numbers.

There are hopes by Democrats and others on the Left that Biden will look at the evidence and come to his senses and push for a Medicare for All healthcare system. There is no evidence that this will happen. This was made clear in a recent interview with Medicare for All advocate Ady Barkan, who has the degenerative disease known as ALS. During the interview Ady Barkan told Biden that “it’s no secret that I support Medicare for All.” Biden’s reply: “I don’t.”

Later in the interview Ady Barken asks the former vice president: “Do you see a future where health insurance is no longer tied to employment? Will America ever have a single payer system where health care is guaranteed as a human right?” Biden then responds: “Health care is guaranteed as a human right…but taking away the right to have a private plan if you want a private plan, I disagree with.”

Biden’s lamenting the loss of access to private insurance is grossly misleading. In European countries that have socialized medicine, it is still possible to purchase private insurance. The same holds true for senior citizens in the United States who can purchase Medicare “Advantage” plans to supplement their health insurance.

The final humiliation that Ady Barkan had to bear was when he pressed Biden on what was the value of private insurance when it required him to spend hours on the phone arguing with insurance companies or how he had to sue insurance companies for out of pocket costs for full time care. In a failed attempt at empathy, Biden said: “Look, you know what my bills were for my hospitalization? They were $280,000. I get it, man. I’m not new to this. I’m not where you are, but I get it. I fully get it.”

This was an insulting put down. Does anyone really think that Biden paid the full cost of his $280,000 medical bill? It’s a safe bet to assume that the former vice president has comprehensive supplemental insurance and paid very little of the total cost of the bill. But even if he had, can’t Biden see that a $280,000 medical bill would bankrupt and destroy most Americans?

Both Ady Barkan and presidential hopeful Joe Biden are suffering from a physical degenerative condition. But only one still has a heart and a mind that is functioning well enough to see the solution to our nation’s healthcare problems. How can it be that a presidential candidate, framing himself as someone possessing great leadership skills, is not embracing Medicare for All during a historic pandemic when infections and deaths are increasing at dramatic rates?

It should be apparent to anyone studying the response by the United States to the pandemic that there needs to be a divorce between one’s employment and access to healthcare. In the United States, when you lose your job you lose your health care coverage as well. Between February and May of 2020, 5.4 million Americans have lost their private health insurance when they got laid off. This number will undoubtedly grow between now and the election as the federal payroll support program ends, which pays employers not to lay off workers. For the country to avoid a healthcare nightmare, Biden and his fellow corporate owned Democrats need to realize that Americans don’t need access to “health insurance”. They need access to “healthcare.”

As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” For over four decades presidential hopeful Joe Biden has shown that he has consistently supported the interests of the corporate donor class over the interests of the common person and, in doing so, demonstrates how the Democratic Party is morally and intellectually bankrupt. Democratic voters hoping that after the election newly elected President Biden and the leadership of the Democratic Party are going to have an epiphany and do what is ethically, medically, and financially right are deluding themselves. The only way a Medicare For All healthcare system gets implemented under a Biden Administration is if there is a large, sustained movement similar to what we have just witnessed following the murder of George Floyd. Only when millions of Americans take to the streets and shut down our nation’s capital will Medicare for All become a reality.

Retired social science teacher and avid reader. Trying to find a place for justice and compassion in society. Twitter: @GHoffarth

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