Former Vice President Joe Biden tore into the Trump administration's efforts to scrap the Affordable Care Act on Thursday as the coronavirus overwhelms states that rushed to reopen their economies.
In swing state Pennsylvania, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said dismantling the landmark Obama administration health care law would further burden Americans recovering from Covid-19.
The remarks come as the Trump administration faces a deadline to file a legal brief in support of a lawsuit challenging Obamacare's constitutionality.
Democrats leveraged opposition to Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare in winning control of the House in 2018, and planned to deploy the same strategy this year even before the pandemic ripped through the country. Now, Biden is tying the possible loss of health insurance for millions to Trump's inability to contain the virus, arguing it would worsen an already inadequate federal response.
"They would live their lives caught in a vise between Donald Trump's twin legacies: his failure to protect the American people from the coronavirus, and his heartless crusade to take health-care protections away from American families," Biden said of Covid-19 patients who could lose coverage if Obamacare is declared unconstitutional and complications from the pandemic get classified as a pre-existing condition.
"Mr. President, drop the lawsuit. Stop trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act," he added. He later said that, "If Donald Trump refuses to end his senseless crusade against health coverage, I look forward to ending it for him."
The pandemic has highlighted deep existing issues in the U.S. health-care system — even with Obamacare mostly intact. As most Americans with health insurance have it through their employers, widespread job losses after states imposed public health restrictions left millions in danger of losing coverage during the outbreak.
Advocates for single-payer insurance have cited the disruptions as they push for a government-run system to cover all Americans. While Biden's health-care plan would expand coverage through a Medicare-like public option, it would not dismantle the private insurance system entirely, as his one-time chief Democratic presidential rival Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All" proposal would.
Covid-19 has also brought racial disparities in health care to the forefront. While Black Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, they have accounted for 21% of coronavirus deaths when race is known, according to the COVID Racial Data Tracker.
In a statement responding to Biden's speech, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said Biden's plan for a public option "is an admission that Obamacare was fatally flawed." He added that Trump "has repeatedly promised to protect people with pre-existing conditions" — though GOP repeal plans the president supported in 2017 would have weakened those provisions.
Biden met Thursday with families who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act in Lancaster, Pa. Trump narrowly won the state in the 2016 election, and losing it this year would deal a blow to his reelection hopes.
The Democratic presidential hopeful has made Trump's coronavirus response a centerpiece of his campaign. He has repeatedly contended the president was not prepared to face the pandemic, and targeted Trump for recently suggesting he wants to slow the rate of testing to keep the number of positive tests lower.
"That's what he's worried about. He's worried about looking bad," Biden said.
The U.S. has recorded about 2.4 million Covid-19 cases and 122,000 deaths — easily more than any other country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Cases and hospitalization in states such as Texas and Arizona have climbed in recent days. On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the state would pause its reopening plans as the pandemic pushes hospital capacity to its limits in parts of the state.