Presidential hopeful Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) said last Thursday that he stands behind universal healthcare coverage, but would not aim to replace or diminish the role of employer-based healthcare to accomplish it.
At a presidential candidate healthcare forum hosted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Biden said the next president has a golden opportunity to provide healthcare to all Americans.
"We used to have this polemic argument about whether or not healthcare was a right that all Americans had, or it was a privilege. We're well beyond that," Biden said. "Everybody understands that in order for America to be competitive and American business to be competitive, we need a national healthcare system of some kind that shares the responsibility of providing healthcare for everyone."
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Biden said his approach will appeal to American pragmatism. "[A]nyone that thinks we're going to take $2 trillion of the economy with stakeholders in that $2 trillion and by a single vote move it from here to here, I think is kidding themselves," he said.
Biden said as president, he would start by insuring every child in America within the first six months and then move on to establishing catastrophic care for everyone of up to $50,000. His plan would cost between $90 and $110 billion.
To pay for his plan, he would use the estimated $180 billion saved by initiating electronic health records. He would also allow a sliding scale into the federal employee healthcare system and Medicare buy-ins at age 55. He would also cut the Defense Department budget by over $160 billion, end the War in Iraq and eliminate the tax cut for the top 1 percent of Americans, he said.
Biden was clear that mandated healthcare is not part of his plan. "I want to keep employers in the game. I don't want to provide incentives for businesses to withdraw and I don't think the mandates will be able to be passed, in my view," he said.
Biden said he would build on the State Children's Health Insurance Program as a starting point by adding $13 billion to cover families with incomes of up to $60,000 a year. He would also emphasize preventative care, which would save money in the long run.
"For me this is about accomplishing an overwhelming moral and practical imperative," Biden said. "And that is how can we best get accomplished, the coverage of the vast majority, if not all Americans, as rapidly as possible."
Biden, who has served as a senator from Delaware since 1973 and is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said he could accomplish his goal because of his experience in dealing with Congress. "The bottom line here is, my proposal has to go through a sieve," he said.