Joe Biden rolls out Medicare and college debt plans after Bernie Sanders suspends campaign

Alex Woodward
Getty

Joe Biden has unveiled two proposals in what he calls a step towards easing the "economic burden on working people" in the wake of Bernie Sanders' exit from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, but the moves are far more conservative than the ones at the centre of his progressive rival's campaign and crucial to his supporters.

The former vice president has proposed lowering the age eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 60 and eliminating student debt for some lower-income families, moves that he says "will not only help people right now when they may need the help most, but will also help people find more secure footing in the long term once we have emerged" from the coronavirus crisis.

His plans are likely an effort to court the Vermont senator's legion of supporters, but the proposals barely scratch what Mr Sanders has proposed — extending Medicare to all Americans to replace the private health insurance market and cancelling all college loan debt.

Mr Biden's Medicare proposal also is more conservative than one floated by Hillary Clinton just four years ago. As the then-presidential candidate, she suggested lowering the eligibility to 50. Under her idea, people aged 50 to 55 could to "buy in" to the program.

Instead, Mr Biden has proposed that because older, unemployed Americans will likely face challenges securing jobs with employer-provided health insurance, they should "have access, if they choose, to Medicare when they turn 60, instead of when they turn 65" through his plan.

Analysts estimate that as many as 35 million Americans could lose their health insurance following unprecedented unemployment claims and business closures during the coronavirus pandemic, which already has cut thousands of workers from their health plans tied to their employers.

The latest projection from Health Management Associates shows the number of uninsured people in the US, including workers and their families who rely on employer-backed plans, could skyrocket. The report says enrolment in Medicaid, a government health plan for poor Americans, could increase from 71 million people to as much as 94 million within the next several months.

Nearly a tenth of American workers have filed unemployment insurance claims, according to Thursday's job report.

"The economic crisis brought on by this virus is both accelerating and deepening," Mr Biden wrote. "These unemployment numbers today are another flashing warning sign that our country and our people will endure enormous economic pain. It is our responsibility to move quickly and effectively to help them."

Mr Biden's student loan debt plan would eliminate student debt for low-income and middle-class students who attended public colleges and universities and historically black colleges and universities.

The Vermont senator's plan called for cancelling all student debt.

"Senator Sanders and his supporters can take pride in their work in laying the groundwork for these ideas, and I'm proud to adopt them as part of my campaign at this critical moment in responding to the coronavirus crisis."

Appearing on The Late Show on Wednesday, Mr Sanders conceded that Mr Biden is "not going to adopt my platform, I got that."

He added: "But if he can move in that direction. I think people will say, 'This is a guy that we should support and will support.'"

In a statement on Wednesday, the former vice president asked for support from the senator's backers as he looks likely to seal the nomination to face Donald Trump in the general election

"I see you, I hear you, and I understand the urgency of what it is we have to get done in this country," Mr Biden wrote. "You are more than welcome. You're needed."

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