Biden’s Medicare Lie

In his fight against Medicare for All, Joe Biden has taken up one of the oldest Republican scaremongering tactics: telling seniors universal coverage will threaten Medicare.

Joe Biden participates in a presidential candidates forum at the NAACP 110th National Convention on July 24, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images)

Speaking at a forum sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons in Iowa earlier this month, Joe Biden fearmongered about Medicare for All. “Medicare goes away as you know it,” said Biden. Under Bernie Sanders’s plan, “All the Medicare you have is gone.”

Biden sounded exactly like Donald Trump, who wrote in an op-ed last year that “Medicare for All would really be Medicare for None.”

This is a smart play if you’re in the pocket of the drug and insurance companies and hell-bent on defeating Medicare for All. Seniors vote, and they’re protective of Medicare. What better way to turn them against the nation’s leading proponent of single-payer health care than by convincing them that Medicare for All actually erodes their benefits?

It’s clever politics, but it’s a total lie. Medicare for All does exactly what it says in the name: it extends the benefits associated with Medicare to the rest of the population. It doesn’t take away Medicare, and it doesn’t weaken it either. On the contrary, it strengthens it. Medicare for All promises huge benefits for seniors: it will save them money, expand their coverage, and give them the freedom to see the doctor of their choice.

Medicare for All would effectively be a Social Security income boost of thousands of dollars per year to seniors. It accomplishes this by eliminating all co-pays, premiums, and deductibles; by covering all long-term care costs for seniors; and by capping prescription drug costs at $200 a year.

The existing Medicare program is widely beloved for good reason, but it’s not a perfect system, and it can still be exorbitantly expensive for seniors on a tight budget. Check out this list of costs built into Medicare: there are co-pays and deductibles, coinsurance costs for skilled nursing facilities, and no limit on out-of-pocket costs for hospital stays after a certain length of time. You pay 20 percent of the cost of your doctors’ visits, and if you get approved for home health care you pay 20 percent of the equipment costs. If you run into health problems, those costs add up quickly.

Medicare Part D helps you pay for prescription drugs, but you’re still on the hook for premiums of up to $84 per month, after a $405 deductible. That’s $1,425 per year, equivalent to nearly a whole month of Social Security — which is supposed to help you with basic expenses like groceries — just for prescriptions alone. And since Medicare doesn’t cover all drugs, it could easily be more.

All told, the US government only pays for 65 percent of seniors’ medical spending right now. Medicare for All would make that nearly 100 percent. You would pay nothing to see a doctor, nothing to stay in a hospital, nothing to receive necessary care at home, and $200 maximum per year on the medicine you need to stay healthy.

Yes, people will pay taxes to cover Medicare for All, but for everyone except the rich, those taxes are far less than what people currently spend on health care — expenditures that currently subsidize the bloated operations and CEO bonuses of profit-hungry corporations. Retirees on low incomes will pay no additional cost to receive the benefits. It’s pure savings.

Medicare for All isn’t just an expansion of Medicare to other sectors of the population; it enhances it for the people who already have it. As the slogan coined by National Nurses United goes, “Love it! Improve it!” One way this works is that more medical services would be covered under Medicare for All than are currently covered under Medicare.

Right now, Medicare parts A and B don’t cover dental care, eye exams, or hearing aids. Of course millions of seniors need these services, and they cost money. “The ability to hear, the ability to see, the desire to have teeth in your mouth is a healthcare issue,” Sanders said in a recent speech on Medicare for All. Under his plan, they would be free. Medicare for All isn’t just about cutting costs for seniors: it also guarantees seniors’ right to see, to hear, and to fully participate in society.

And it also ensures greater freedom of choice. Right now, nearly 30 percent of primary care physicians report that they’re not taking new patients on Medicare. This can be difficult for seniors who live in a region with relatively few doctors — they may have to drive, or have someone else drive them, a long distance to see a doctor willing to work with them. In New Mexico, for example, one out of every seven seniors reports that they have problems making a timely appointment with a doctor who takes Medicare.

Medicare for All expands the choice of doctors available to seniors; far fewer physicians will choose not to participate because, as a universal program, opting out of it will cost them more patients. Seniors, and everyone else, will have the freedom to walk into any doctor’s office, present their insurance card, and receive care — no hassle, no complicated paperwork, no questions asked.

So given that Medicare for All will save seniors money, expand their benefits, and enhance their freedom of choice, why are Joe Biden and Donald Trump so intent on scaring seniors off the idea? Like many of society’s mysteries, the answer is money.

The insurance and pharmaceutical industries have been flooding both the Democratic and the Republican Party with corporate money, seeking to purchase allies in their fight against Medicare for All, which they rightly see as an existential threat to their exploitative multi-billion dollar business models. Lobbying is expensive. It wouldn’t be common practice if it didn’t work.

Trump and Biden are parroting industry talking points when they say Medicare for All is an attack on traditional Medicare. Seniors, they’re taking you for chumps.