The health care activist Ady Barkan, who gained national prominence by advocating for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan, spoke in support of Joe Biden — who opposes it — during the second night of the Democratic National Convention.
Barkan, who was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, in 2016, is paralyzed and spoke on video using a computer-generated voice.
"We live in the richest country in history, and yet we do not guarantee this most basic human right,” said Barkan. “Everyone living in America should get the health care they need, regardless of their employment status or ability to pay."
Barkan mentioned a White House-backed lawsuit that could result in the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Without the protections for preexisting conditions provided by the ACA, a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated in 2016 that up to 52 million people could be denied coverage. Others would lose insurance if the Medicaid expansion that was adopted by dozens of states and by the District of Columbia is killed.
“Even during this terrible crisis, Donald Trump and Republican politicians are trying to take away millions of people’s health insurance,” Barkan continued. “With the existential threat of another four years of this president, we all have a profound obligation to act: Not only to vote, but to make sure our friends, family and neighbors vote as well. “
“We must elect Joe Biden,” he concluded. “Each of us must be a hero for our communities, for our country, and then, with a compassionate and intelligent president, we must act together and put a bill on his desk: a bill that guarantees us all the health care we deserve.”
Before Barkan’s appearance, Democrats aired a video of Biden speaking with Americans dealing with health issues across the country.
While Barkan interviewed many of the major Democratic candidates during the primary and eventually endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and then Sanders, Biden declined to meet with him. They finally spoke in July of this year, after Biden had secured the nomination.
“You made clear your opposition to single-payer Medicare for All,” Barkan said during the interview. “But in recent months, 20 million Americans have lost their jobs, and many have lost their health insurance with it. Do you see a future where health insurance is no longer tied to employment? Will America ever have a single-payer system, where health care is guaranteed as a human right?”
“Health care guaranteed as a human right, but taking away the right to have a private plan if you want a private plan, I disagree with,” replied Biden.
Biden opposes Medicare for All, which is supported by a majority of Democratic primary voters, and has said he would veto the bill if it made it to his desk as president. Biden has proposed fixes to the ACA, commonly known as Obamacare, and a public option, which would allow Americans to buy into a Medicare or Medicaid-style plan. However, last week, The Hill reported that Democrats are likely to attempt only moderate fixes to begin with.
“Obviously, we can’t accomplish anything good with Republicans in control,” said Barkan, when asked by the New York Times if he had concerns about Biden’s opposition to broader health care reform. “So I see my role, and the role of the progressive movement, as trying to get more and better Democrats elected to office, and then pushing hard to get them to promote justice and equity when they get there.”
While Sanders spoke at length Monday, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had brief remarks Tuesday, seconding Sanders’ nomination, the progressive wing of the party has so far been sidelined for much of the first two days of the convention, with more speaking time going to Republicans, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Cindy McCain, widow of Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
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