Joe Biden Proposes Changes to Medicare

Table of Contents:

  1. Addressing COVID-19
  2. An Olive Branch?
  3. Moving Forward Together

On April 8th, Senator Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. The move leaves former Vice President Joe Biden alone in what was once a historically diverse and crowded field. While the COVID-19 crisis raises questions about the future of the nominating process, it’s clear that Joe Biden will lead the Democratic ticket in 2020.

Biden published his first two proposals as the presumptive nominee the next day. In addition to addressing the economic impact of COVID-19, the proposal was clearly intended as an appeal to Senator Sanders and his supporters.

If elected, Biden has pledged to reduce the Medicare eligibility age to 60 and forgive a considerable portion of student debt.

Addressing COVID-19

Before outlining his new policy proposals, Biden addresses the recent spike in unemployment numbers. “These aren’t statistics,” he writes, “these are people.” While acknowledging the impact of the CARES Act, he suggests more money is needed for both immediate relief and recovery efforts.

It is clear, Biden suggests, that the worst of COVID-19’s onslaught is still to come. Even after the virus is tackled and America returns to work, we’ll still feel the lingering effects of “enormous economic pain.” The Biden campaign believes that addressing this pain in the long term will mean taking bold steps to rebuild the economy and “help people find more secure footing.”


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While lowering the Medicare eligibility age by five years is not as transformative as offering Medicare-like coverage to every American, it represents a fairly bold proposal for Biden. Throughout the Democratic primary, Biden attracted criticism from progressives (and even the occasional moderate) for favoring an incremental approach to reform.

Former Vice President Joe Biden announces changes to Medicare.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, outlines his COVID-19 response plan.

An Olive Branch?

Under Biden’s new proposal, all Americans will have the option of enrolling in Medicare when they turn 60. Biden writes that this plan will, “make Medicare available to a set of Americans who work hard and retire before they turn 65, or who would prefer to leave their employer plans, the public option, or other plans they access through the Affordable Care Act before they retire.” While Biden is making some concessions to progressives, it’s clear he still favors small changes to the existing healthcare system over sweeping reforms. As President, Biden would move to create a Medicare-like public option, but he would not eliminate private insurance along the way.

Biden concludes his proposal by addressing Senator Sanders, his campaign, and his supporters directly. “Senator Sanders and his supporters,” the proposal reads, “can take pride in their work in laying the groundwork for these ideas.” He adds, “I’m proud to adopt them as part of my campaign.”

Some Medicare for All supporters have already expressed mixed feelings. KHN’s Julie Rovner quotes a tweet from RoseAnn Demoro, former head of the National Nurses United union, “Now if he will only erase the 60 we have #Medicareforall.” Rovner predicts it will prove even less popular among conservatives in the House. “Republicans,” she writes, “are likely to oppose such a plan — strenuously.” The GOP has recently tried to do just the opposite of what Biden is proposing. As recently as 2017, lawmakers discussed raising the eligibility age to 67. For now, it may be working in Biden’s favor that Sanders remains a very public figure and that GOP opposition to “Medicare for All” remains strong. His own healthcare proposal has faced comparatively little scrutiny and almost no direct attack.

Moving Forward Together

Biden and Sanders appeared in a livestream video together on April 13th. The progressive Senator offered Biden his endorsement and both former opponents committed to combating the COVID-19 crisis (and taking back the White House) together. As two of the nation’s most prominent Democrats, they’ll both play a huge role in addressing the crisis and carrying out recovery efforts.