One day after Sen. Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden showcased new proposals to lower Medicare eligibility to age 60 and forgive student loan debt for low-income and middle-class families.
"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," Biden said in a release.
Biden’s plan for Medicare -- the government-run health care system for those 65 and older -- would drop the eligibility age by five years, to 60. It would be available to those who work and retire before they turn 65 and those who are 60 or older and who want to leave their employer plans or health care coverage they’ve accessed through the Affordable Care Act before they retire.
The campaign says the move would give older Americans nearing the retirement age the ability to enjoy the benefits of the popular Medicare program. And Biden explained the proposal’s additional costs would “be financed out of general revenues to protect the Medicare Trust Fund.”
The former vice president also emphasized that “those who prefer to remain on their employer plans would be permitted to do so, and employers would have to comply with non-discrimination laws and would be prohibited from excluding older workers from coverage or otherwise try to push them out of their plans.”
He added that “the Biden Medicare-like public option” that he’s pushed on the campaign trail -- as well as subsidized private plans currently available to individuals through the ObamaCare health care exchanges -- would remain available.
The move is a significant step toward Sanders’ decades-old push for a government-run "Medicare-for-all" single-payer health care system, which was the senator’s signature domestic proposal in his 2020 presidential campaign. But it doesn’t go as far as Sanders’s plan, which calls for phasing in all Americans over a four-year period and phasing out private health insurance plans.
Biden said that his other plan would forgive student loan debt for those earning under $125,000 who attended public colleges, Historically Black Colleges or Universities (known as HBCUs) or private Minority-Serving Institutions (known as MSIs).
“This concept I’m announcing today will align my student debt relief proposal with my forward-looking college tuition proposal,” Biden said. “The federal government would pay the monthly payment in lieu of the borrower until the forgivable portion of the loan was paid off.”
Biden’s proposal isn’t as comprehensive as Sanders’ plan to forgive all student debt, but it’s a move in that direction. It also follows the former vice president’s embracement two weeks ago of former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to also forgive up to $10,000 of anyone’s student debt right as part of coronavirus relief.
The announcements by Biden come as he courts Sanders and his supporters in the hope of unifying the party as the former vice president challenges President Trump in November’s general election.
While suspending his campaign on Wednesday, Sanders refrained from endorsing the former vice president and emphasized that he’ll remain on the Democratic primary ballot going forward “to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic convention where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party platform and other functions.”
In an interview Wednesday night on CBS' "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," Sanders said: “I hope to be able to work with Joe to move him in a more progressive direction.”
Talks between the two teams to discuss areas of policy agreements are getting underway. “The two campaigns continue to be engaged on a range of topics that would build on Vice President Biden's existing policy proposals and further our shared goals to move the country forward,” a senior Biden campaign official told Fox News on Thursday.
But if Biden starts steering too far to the left, he’ll invite a barrage of incoming fire from Republicans that he’s pushing a socialist agenda.
Within moments of Sanders' suspension on Wednesday, the president's reelection campaign went up with a digital ad highlighting similarities between the presumptive nominee and the democratic socialist.