President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden clashed over their agendas for healthcare reform as the issue took center stage during the first presidential debate on Tuesday.
Biden used the first question of the night about the impending Senate fight over Trump's Supreme Court nomination as an opportunity to raise concerns about the future of the Affordable Care Act. He criticized Trump for supporting a lawsuit that could upend the ACA and for not presenting a comprehensive replacement plan if the law is struck down. The Supreme Court hears oral arguments Nov. 10 in a case that could determine the law's fate.
If the law is struck down, Biden claimed that millions would lose health insurance coverage and people with pre-existing conditions would pay more for health insurance.
In a fiery back-and-forth, Trump tried to tie Biden to the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party that advocates a single-payer healthcare system, saying Biden supports "socialized medicine" and invoking Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris' (D-Calif.) endorsement of Medicare for All legislation in the Senate. Biden does not support Medicare for All. He instead is calling for a public option.
"The party is me. Right now, I am the Democratic party," Biden said.
Questioned if adding a public insurance option to the exchanges would eventually lead to the end of private insurance, Biden argued that the public option would mostly be available to low-income people. The Democratic platform states that the public option would also be available to people who are offered employer-sponsored plans through their jobs.
When Fox News host and moderator Chris Wallace pressed Trump about not offering a comprehensive replacement plan for the ACA, the president highlighted zeroing out the individual mandate as a win and touted plans his administration has to lower drug prices that have not yet been implemented.
Trump accused Biden of not taking on drugmakers during his career in public service.
"You could have done during your 47-year period in government, but you didn't do it. Nobody has done it," Trump said.
Trump also said his administration supports striking down the ACA because the law has made premiums more expensive. He claimed he also supports protections for people with pre-existing conditions, which are codified in the ACA. Democrats including Biden have used the fact that COVID-19 could be a pre-existing condition to attack the Trump administration's stance on the ACA.
Trump also teased that a COVID-19 vaccine could be "weeks away," and contradicted the opinions of some of his top public health experts who have projected vaccines will be widely available by mid-2021. Biden said he trusts public health experts, but is concerned about Trump pressuring scientists to rush a vaccine.
The second presidential debate will be held on Oct. 15, the same week that confirmation hearings will start for Judge Amy Coney Barrett in the Senate.