WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday laid out his case for expanding the Affordable Care Act, saying the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the urgent need to give more Americans access to health insurance.
"Beginning on Jan. 20, Vice President-elect [Kamala] Harris and I will do everything we can to ease the burden of health care on you and your family," Biden said in a speech in Wilmington, Delaware.
Introducing Biden on stage, Harris said Biden's election victory over President Donald Trump amounted to a mandate for expanding access to health care and health insurance.
"Each and every vote for Joe Biden was a statement that health care in America should be a right and not a privilege," she said. "Each and every vote for Joe Biden was a vote to protect and expand the Affordable Care Act, not to tear it away in the midst of a global pandemic."
Biden's remarks were timed to pivot off oral arguments Tuesday before the Supreme Court in a major case over the constitutionality of the landmark 2010 health-care law.
But they also reflect the preeminent position that health and health-care issues occupy within the incoming Biden administration's broader policy agenda.
Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election on Saturday, after he secured the 270 Electoral College votes needed to defeat President Donald Trump.
"My transition team will soon be starting its work to flesh out the details so that we can hit the ground running, tackling costs, increasing access, lowering the price of prescription drugs. Families are reeling right now. ... They need a lifeline, and they need it now," said Biden.
On Monday, his first full workday as president-elect, Biden met with his newly assembled coronavirus task force and spoke afterward about the need for a nationwide campaign to encourage mask-wearing. Biden's decision to use his second workday as president-elect to speak again about health and health care was noteworthy.
"This doesn't need to be a partisan issue. It's a human issue," he said of expanding health insurance.
Expanding the ACA to include a government-administered health insurance option was a core promise of Biden's presidential campaign.
But Biden aides and advisors also knew that it was one of the pledges that relied most heavily on Democrats winning majorities in the House and Senate.
With Republicans currently expected to hold on to their majority in the Senate, any "public option" expansion of the ACA is likely to exist more as a negotiating platform than a legislative reality.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly called Obamacare "the single worst piece of legislation to pass in the last 50 years."