The coronavirus crisis hasn't changed Joe Biden's mind on 'Medicare for All'

Sahil Kapur

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden said Monday he still opposes a "Medicare for All" system for health care coverage, arguing that the policy isn't the answer to the growing coronavirus emergency.

"Single payer will not solve that at all," the Democratic presidential front-runner told MSNBC's Yasmin Vossoughian in a TV interview.

"We have a whole number of hospitals that are being stretched, including rural hospitals, that are going to need more financing. That doesn’t come from a single-payer system. That comes from the federal government stepping up and dealing with the concerns that they have," he said from his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

The former vice president's remarks come as the issue remains a Democratic fault line in his battle with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the leader of the national movement for a single-payer system, who is pressing his presidential campaign even as his odds of winning the nomination shrink. The debate has been heightened as more Americans become infected with the virus and the nation's death toll threatened to surpass 3,000.

Sanders and an army of progressive allies say the pandemic elevates the need for a single-payer plan that covers everyone, as the Federal Reserve estimates that as many as 47 million Americans could lose their job due to the coronavirus.

Asked to respond to Biden, the Sanders campaign's national policy director, Josh Orton, said Medicare for All would ensure that everyone is insured without out-of-pocket costs and that rural hospitals would have consistent funding streams that don't rely on for-profit insurers.

"The coronavirus crisis reveals why it is imperative the country move quickly to guarantee health care as a human right," Orton told NBC News, calling it the appropriate fix for "a dysfunctional, greedy health care system [that] ties most people's health care coverage to employment."

Biden's health care plan would preserve employer-based coverage while expanding the safety net for those who find themselves without coverage. He would boost subsidies and eligibility for Obamacare and add a public option to the marketplaces that people could buy into.

Both their ideas are popular: A poll last month by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 74 percent of Democrats favor a Medicare for All system, while 82 percent support a public option.

In the MSNBC interview Monday, Biden said the coronavirus highlights the need to be prepared.

"This is an opportunity to look at reconstructing the health care system in a way that can respond more rapidly and more effectively to these kinds of crises. Because it’s going to come again," Biden said, calling for a focus on finding a vaccine and using resources to anticipate the next virus.