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“Vote like your health care is on the ballot—because it is,” Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeted this September following President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Indeed, our health as a nation depends on the government’s response to urgent issues like the coronavirus, drug policy, health care access including abortion, and climate change.
Here’s where Biden stands on these key health issues today.
As Biden pointed out in the first presidential debate, the U.S. makes up about 4% of the world’s population but 20% of the global coronavirus death toll, with the virus disproportionately affecting Black communities. It’s no surprise, then, that Biden said Trump was responsible for contracting coronavirus this month after the president refused to consistently wear a mask and practice social distancing. “Anybody who contracts the virus by essentially saying, ‘Masks don’t matter, social distancing doesn’t matter,’ I think is responsible for what happens to them,” Biden said. Despite derision from Trump advisors and Trump himself, Biden has heeded authorities’ recommendations and consistently worn a mask, according to an analysis by the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, Biden’s plan to tackle COVID-19 prioritizes decisions informed by science. SELF previously reported that testing is key to containing the virus even once we have a vaccine; Biden’s plan promises to double the number of drive-through coronavirus testing sites, invest in rapid testing, and mobilize at least 100,000 Americans in a contact-tracing program. Then there’s the masks aspect, which can make a life-saving difference in this pandemic. Health authorities estimate that consistent mask-wearing between August 6 and December 1 would save about 70,000 American lives. Biden says that if elected, he’ll use the Defense Production Act to ramp up mask production and call on governors to make masks mandatory in their states. He has also promised to reestablish the U.S.’s relationship with the World Health Organization, which Trump severed earlier this year, to better coordinate the American COVID-19 response. Biden says he’ll establish a COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force, which his runningmate Senator Kamala Harris proposed, to better address the disproportionate impact the coronavirus is having on Black and brown communities. And with federal authorities currently tallying case counts by state, Biden says he’ll create a nationally run Pandemic Dashboard to help Americans know the real-time coronavirus case count by their zip code.
On health care access:
Biden has long been a staunch supporter of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”), the health care law put in place under former President Barack Obama. The ACA guarantees that most health care plans offer free preventive care for things like vaccines and disease screenings. It makes it illegal for insurers to deny service or treatment to people with preexisting conditions (previously a common practice) that affect up to one in two Americans, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The ACA also prohibits insurers from setting lifetime and annual limits on the amount of care you can receive, and it mandates coverage for birth control, breastfeeding equipment and counseling, and mental health and substance abuse services. With the ACA in place, more than 20 million Americans gained health coverage, dropping uninsured rates by a third or more among people of all incomes, according to the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities. The ACA has also had its downsides, such as the unpopular individual mandate, which the Trump Administration repealed in 2017. The Trump Administration has gradually chipped away at Obamacare beyond that as well and asked the Supreme Court to overturn the law this June.
Biden has repeatedly said he doesn’t support “Medicare for all”; his health care platform instead doubles down on the ACA. Biden’s plan will add a public option “like Medicare” to guarantee free health care access to the 4.9 million Americans who live in one of the 14 states that refused to take up the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. The plan proposes to reduce costs for patients by negotiating lower prices from hospitals and other health care providers, and covering primary care without copayments. Other highlights include banning health care providers from charging patients surprise out-of-network rates in certain situations (if you’re hospitalized, for example); limiting drug price increases to inflation (to keep pharmaceuticals companies from drastically raising prices overnight); and allowing consumers to buy prescription drugs from other countries.
Before the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade legalized the right to abortion, illegal abortions accounted for around 17% of all reported pregnancy- and childbirth-related deaths, according to the Guttmacher Institute; the actual number was likely a lot higher. With Trump’s nomination of Barrett to the Supreme Court, pundits say that Roe v. Wade is potentially at risk. If the Court overturns Roe v. Wade, abortion rights would be up to individual states. (Barrett has said she would follow the Court’s precedent on abortion, but in a 2016 presidential debate, Trump said he would appoint “pro-life judges” and that the legality of abortion would indeed go back to individual states. There are also other cases the Court could use to jeopardize access to safe and legal abortion.)
Without Roe v. Wade, less than half of U.S. states and no U.S. territories would have other legal protection for abortion access, according to an analysis by the Center for Reproductive Rights; one-third of all women of reproductive age wouldn’t be able to access abortion in their state, according to Planned Parenthood. In October, Biden told reporters that if the Supreme Court does overturn Roe v. Wade, his “only response to that is [to] pass legislation making Roe the law of the land.” It’s not clear how he’d make that happen, given that the Supreme Court could then challenge those laws. Still, Biden has won the endorsement of pro-choice groups including Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice.