LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden drew a contrast Wednesday between his health care plan and those of other top presidential hopefuls as he sought to woo members of a powerful Nevada union.
Biden told members of the casino workers’ Culinary Union in Las Vegas that he wants to build on the Affordable Care Act he helped then-President Barack Obama get passed. He wants to offer a “public option” that allows people to buy into a government insurance without eliminating private insurance for those who want to keep it.
“Where I come from, I don’t like people telling me what I have to choose,” Biden said. “So the 160 million people who have busted their neck, walked on picket lines, gave up pay, took hits in order to get significant health care available, you get to keep it under my plan. You don’t have to give it up.”
His comments drew cheers from the several hundred workers. It’s a key issue for the 60,000-member Culinary Union, whose members say they want to keep their robust plans they’ve negotiated for over the years. The union, seen as one of the most potent political forces in Nevada politics, has not yet said if it will endorse a candidate in the Democratic presidential race but has been hosting candidate town halls this week.
Biden’s town hall Wednesday followed appearances by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday. Warren and Sanders have both proposed Medicare for All plans that would move the country to government-run insurance and eliminate private insurance coverage like the union currently has.
Warren breezed over her proposal during her town hall without mentioning the word Medicare or any of the details. Sanders took a more direct approach and received some pushback from members who interrupted him as he outlined the proposal and chanted “Union health care!”
Biden alluded to the earlier visits on Wednesday, referring to Sanders and Warren as his friends who came by and spoke about their Medicare for All plans. The former vice president said Medicare for All is a “great idea except it has a problem” with its cost. Outside estimates put the price tag for Medicare for All at least $30 trillion over a decade, though Warren has said her plan would be about $20 trillion over 10 years.
Unlike Sanders, Warren has said she can make the change without raising taxes on middle class earners. That’s something Biden has repeatedly disputed and a point he made again Wednesday, saying: “Bernie’s honest about it.”
Biden said with his plan, “everybody gets covered. Taxes don’t go up. And we give everybody an option and you can stay in your plan if you like.”
Biden was also asked about the so-called “Cadillac tax” on generous health insurance that was a part of Obama’s signature health care law but has not gone into effect. The U.S. House of Representatives voted this summer to repeal the 40% levy, which would have hit the union plans, but the measure is awaiting a vote in the Senate.
Biden said he’s confident the tax will be repealed.