Fact check: Does Joe Biden’s health care plan do too little to rein in insurance companies?

During the second Democratic presidential debate this year, California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden had a heated exchange over their health care plans.

Harris twice attacked Biden’s plan as “status quo,” saying he would “do nothing” to hold insurance companies accountable. She said it would let companies keep “doing business as usual,” which she described as “jacking up co-pays, jacking up deductibles....”

Bottom line: It’s true Harris has a more disruptive plan for health insurers, a group that has seen rising insurance profits under Obamacare. But Harris is wrong that Biden’s plan does “nothing” to address insurance company behavior.

Biden wants to build on the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Barack Obama. He argues that it already has covered “100 million people with preexisting conditions.” In the debate, he said he would reverse damage done to the system by the Trump administration and create a government-run option that any American could choose.

The former vice president said his plan would rein in costs by limiting co-pays to $1,000, and policyholders would pay no more than 8.5 percent of their income on health care.

Those who don’t want Obamacare could still opt to keep their current insurance. But they could also get the new “public option” plan modeled after Medicare – something that’s not presently available for those with employer-based insurance, who bought their own plans, or are uninsured.

That option, he argues, would put competitive pressure on private insurers to lower policy costs and drug prices.

“No one has to keep their private insurance, but if they like their insurance, they should be able to keep it,” Biden said. “Nothing is demanded in my plan that there be private insurance. It says, if the 160 million who have it say they like their employer insurance, they should have a right to have it. If they don’t, they can buy into the Biden plan.”

Unlike Biden, Harris would create a sweeping government-run healthcare system that covers every American. She would greatly reduce the role private insurers play in national health care, which she argues would lower costs.

But she wouldn’t abolish private insurance. She recently introduced a proposal that would allow some forms of private insurance, provided the companies meet certain guidelines.

Harris said she changed her plan because she had been listening to Americans who like and want to keep what they have now.

Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.