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Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speak during a Democratic presidential primary debate Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP) Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speak during a Democratic presidential primary debate Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP)

Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speak during a Democratic presidential primary debate Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP)

Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde February 27, 2020

Joe Biden leaves out key facts in claim that Bernie Sanders opposed Obamacare

If Your Time is short

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders voted in favor of Obamacare.

  • Sanders wanted a single-payer option in the law and did not like that it was not part of it.

  • Sanders successfully pushed for the inclusion of $11 billion in funding for community health centers, especially in rural areas. He said that expansion was an important factor in helping him vote for the bill.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said Sen. Bernie Sanders talks in a way that one would think Sanders and Barack Obama "were close buddies." But they were not, Biden said, claiming that Sanders was against Obama’s signature health care law.

Sanders "opposed Obamacare, didn't like the fact we didn't push a single-payer option," Biden said in an MSNBC interview aired Feb. 23.

Is Biden right? If viewers were left with the impression that Sanders voted against Obamacare, they were misled. Sanders voted for the law. But Sanders also wanted a single-payer option in the law and didn’t like that it wasn’t included.

"I think it is fair to say that Sen. Sanders was ambivalent about the ACA and uncertain if he was going to vote for it during much of the 2009-10 debate," said Jonathan Oberlander, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an expert on the law.

But Sanders voted for the bill, Oberlander said, "so it’s not fair to simply say he opposed it."

Biden cites Sanders pre-vote hesitance as evidence of opposition

Obama on March 23, 2010, signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. The Senate passed the health care bill, 60-39, on Dec. 24, 2009, with Sanders voting in favor. No Senate Republican supported it.

About a week before, Sanders told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto that he was not yet a "yes" vote on the bill. "I am going to do my best to make this bill a better bill, a bill that I can vote for, but I have indicated both to the White House and the Democratic leadership that my vote is not secure at this point," Sanders said Dec. 16, 2009.

Sanders said that without a public option, he worried about controlling costs.

"What a strong Medicare-type public option would do is at least provide competition to these private insurance companies and prevent, I believe, these large increases in rates," Sanders said. "I am doing my best right now to make this bill a bill that works for the American people."

In the Obamacare debate, supporters of the public option said it would be available to people who had to buy their own insurance, without the help of an employer. It would be run by the government and offer basic coverage. Opponents argued that it would have presented too much government involvement in the health care system.

RELATED: Medicare for All: What it is, what it isn't; 6 things to know about health care and the 2020 campaign

The Biden campaign said that before the bill passed, Sanders submitted an amendment for a single-payer health care system. That’s true, but Sanders also backed down and withdrew the amendment after Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., used a procedural move to force a full reading of Sanders’ proposal — a move that would have taken hours of floor time and risk passage of a more moderate bill backed by Obama and his allies. (Sanders also didn’t have the votes to pass his amendment.)

Sanders ultimately voted for the law.

"The bill is not as strong as I wanted and I will work to improve it, but it begins to move this country toward the long-time goal of providing comprehensive, affordable health care for all Americans. … We can do better, but this is an important step forward," Sanders said after the Senate passed the bill.

PolitiFact has reported that Sanders successfully pushed for the inclusion of $11 billion in funding for community health centers, especially in rural areas. Sanders said that expansion was an important factor in helping him vote for the bill.

While he continues to advocate for a single-payer option, Sanders has defended Obamacare against efforts by the Trump administration and Republicans to roll it back.

Our ruling

Biden said Sanders "opposed Obamacare, didn't like the fact we didn't push a single-payer option."

Sanders voted for the passage of Obamacare, even though he did not like that it did not include a public option. Before voting for the bill, Sanders said his vote was not certain since the proposal did not include the public option. Sanders embraced the bill more after it included funding for community health centers.

Biden’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Joe Biden MSNBC interview aired Feb. 23, 2020

Email interview, Joe Biden campaign, Feb. 24, 2020

Email interview, Sen. Bernie Sanders campaign, Feb. 24, 2020

Email interview, Jonathan Oberlander, a professor and chair of the Department of Social Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Feb. 26, 2020

PolitiFact, Bernie Sanders exaggerates with claim that he helped write Obamacare, Jan. 18, 2016

YouTube, Sen. Bernie Sanders interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Dec. 22, 2009

Transcript of Sen. Bernie Sanders interview on Hardball with Chris Matthews, Dec. 22, 2009

Las Vegas Sun, Deal-maker Reid’s quiet persistence, March 28, 2010

Senate.gov, Roll call on H.R. 3590 (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), Dec. 24, 2009

Sen. Bernie Sanders Senate website, This Week in Review, Oct. 25, 2013; Sanders statement after Senate passage of ACA, Dec. 24, 2009

PolitiFact, Bernie Sanders' projection of 'thousands' of deaths from lost health coverage is well-supported, June 27, 2017

PolitiFact, Bernie Sanders has numbers to show Donald Trump wanted to cut health care for 32 million, Feb. 28, 2019

Internet Archive, Sen. Bernie Sanders Fox News interview, Dec. 16, 2009

YouTube, Bernie Sanders: As Of This Point, I'm Not Voting For The Bill, Dec. 16, 2009

NBC News, The Ed Show for Monday,November 17th, 2014; AP: Single-payer health care plan dies in Senate, Dec. 16, 2009

PolitiFact: Obamater - It's official: The public option is dead, March 26, 2010

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More by Miriam Valverde

Joe Biden leaves out key facts in claim that Bernie Sanders opposed Obamacare

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