Here Is One Health Care Pledge Biden Shouldn't Make

Jonathan Cohn
·2-min read

President Donald Trump hit Joe Biden with a familiar attack in Thursday night’s presidential debate, warning that the former vice president would wipe out private health insurance for 180 million Americans.

Biden pointed out that Trump was criticizing a position the Democratic nominee doesn’t actually hold. Although many Democrats support “Medicare for All,” which would eliminate private insurance in order to create one government-run plan, Biden is not among them.

Biden has made it clear he prefers to bolster the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Biden would do that, in part, by offering more financial assistance to insurance buyers and by creating a voluntary government-run plan, what’s known as a public option.

But Biden said something else in Thursday’s debate: “Not one single person with private insurance would lose their insurance under my plan.”

That’s a dangerously ironclad promise. And if Biden wants to know why, he should ask his old friend, Barack Obama, who famously promised that people who liked their old insurance plans could keep them ― when, in fact, some could not.

Obamacare’s “Keep Your Plan” Promise

Democrats first started making such vows during the 2008 presidential campaign. The primary purpose was to distinguish their health care proposals from President Bill Clinton’s 1993 proposal, under which most employer plans would have disappeared.

The specter of such a dramatic change was one reason the Clinton proposal became so politically toxic and ultimately failed to get through Congress.

Obama and his allies sought to minimize that sort of disruption, by avoiding major changes to employer coverage, when they wrote the legislation that eventually became the Affordable Care Act. But they also wanted to rewrite the rules for people buying private insurance on their own, because those were the policies with huge benefit gaps and the ones insurers frequently would not sell to people with...

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