WILMINGTON, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden promised a “dramatic expansion” to health care under his administration on Tuesday, the same day the Supreme Court is hearing a case on the merits of the Affordable Care Act.
The Supreme Court ruled eight years ago to leave intact the essential components of the law known as Obamacare, but the court is now controlled 6-3 by a conservative majority following the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Tuesday’s hearing is part of Republican elected officials’ and the Trump administration’s latest push to get rid of the ACA, a long-held GOP goal that has repeatedly failed in Congress and the courts.
During his address from Wilmington, Delaware on Tuesday, Biden skewered Republicans for their attempts to dismantle the ACA while in the midst of a global pandemic, at one point calling the challenge “cruel and needlessly divisive.”
Should the Supreme Court side with the Republicans, health care coverage for more than 23 million people could be thrown into jeopardy.
“This case represents the latest attempt by the far-right idealogues to do what they've repeatedly failed to do for a long time — in the courts, congress, the court of public opinion, over the last decade — to eliminate the entirety of the Affordable Care Act,” Biden began.
“Now, in the middle of a deadly pandemic that has infected more than 10 million Americans, nearly 1 in every 32 Americans, often with devastating consequences to their health, these idealogues are once again trying to strip health coverage away from the American people,” the president-elect continued.
Biden leaned on the shifting demographics of Americans who now believe health care is a right instead of a privilege, saying: “I’m not naive about the fact that health care is an issue that has divided Americans in the past. But the truth is, Americans are more united on this issue than they are divided.”
According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 55% of Americans hold a favorable opinion of the ACA — the law’s highest recorded level of public support since it was enacted.
Another study conducted by Pew Research in September showed that 63% of U.S. adults say the federal government is obligated to provide Americans with health coverage. The number is up slightly from Pew’s 2019 estimate of 59%, which the center says can be attributed to “Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.”
The president-elect took his pledge a step further on Tuesday, saying that regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision he would start his term in office by “building on the Affordable Care Act, with a dramatic expansion of health care coverage and bold steps to lower health care costs.”
“Come January, we’re going to work quickly with Congress to dramatically ramp-up health care protections, to get Americans universal coverage and lower health care costs as soon as humanly possible,” Biden continued.
Biden said his transition team is working to “flesh out the details” of the complicated plan so that he can “hit the ground running” come next year.
Vice President-elect Harris, who introduced Biden in her first public address since a joint election victory speech on Saturday, told the crowd that every vote for Biden was a vote for better, more affordable health care.
Harris said that Biden “won the election decisively,” and that “every vote for Joe Biden was a statement that health care in America should be a right, not a privilege.”
Health care was one of many issues that highlighted the divide between Biden and Trump during a high-stakes election season. Trump has not yet conceded to Biden and is instead pushing through a series of legal challenges in key swing states aimed at stopping or challenging the vote count.
When asked if Trump’s refusal to concede will impact the future transfer of power between administrations, the president-elect said his transition team is already “well underway” with their preparations for the White House.
Biden said the current administration’s inability to recognize his election victory “does not change the dynamic at all and what we’re able to do.”
Still, the president-elect will take over a bitterly divided government, as many top Republicans have also remained silent on Biden’s win. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a fiery address on the senate floor where he said the president is "100 percent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.”
Biden did not blame the opposing party for their silence, telling reporters: “I think that the whole Repulican party has been put in a position, with a few notable exceptions, of being mildly intimated by the sitting president.”
Biden added that he has not yet had an opportunity to speak with Sen. McConnell, but plans on doing so in the “not-too-distant future.”
When pressed on a message for the sitting president, Biden’s answer was simple: “Mr. President, I look forward to speaking with you.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.