Joe Biden: It Would Be an Insult to My Dead Son for Everyone to Have Healthcare

The former vice president released an ad invoking family tragedy and attacking rivals who have plans to ensure everyone has access to healthcare.
joe biden healthcare ad
 Ethan Miller/Getty Images

In a new campaign ad, former vice president Joe Biden suggests that for all Americans to have healthcare would be an insult to his son, Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015. Watch for yourself:

Biden starts by relating the story of how his son died despite having access to quality healthcare via quality insurance. “Healthcare is personal to me,” Biden says in the ad, over a sappy soundtrack and imagery of him looking vaguely prayerful, standing in front of a flag, and being patted on the back by Barack Obama. “Obamacare is personal to me. And when I see the president try to tear it down and others propose to replace it and start over, that’s personal to me, too. We’ve got to build on what we did, because every American deserves affordable healthcare.”


Campaign ads are a great exercise in offering lines to read between, and reading between them here yields three items of interest. One is the “others propose” language, an obvious swipe at Democratic rivals who support Medicare for All. The second is the word “affordable,” a nod to the idea that healthcare should be treated as a consumer product—though one better-regulated than Donald Trump would like it to be, to be sure—rather than a human right.

The third is the phrase “start over."

Biden, whose plan would not cover everyone, has repeatedly suggested that Medicare for All would represent "starting over," which he has said would be a “sin.” The more generous read here is that he’s saying he doesn’t think it would be worth doing a lot of political work to get a better system in place, that his son benefitted from various provisions in the Affordable Care Act (making this personal to him), and that mainly he wants to communicate the idea that on principle, everyone having access to affordable healthcare would be good. The less-generous read—and given that he’s said Medicare for All would involve a “hiatus” of some sort up to three years, it’s not all that ungenerous—is that he wants people to think that implementing Medicare for All would involve blowing up the healthcare system as it stands and leaving people with no health insurance for some period. (In fact it would cover every person in the U.S., with no lapse in coverage.)

In all, the ad is saying that healthcare is personal to Joe Biden because his son died; that as a father, he believes the best and most legitimate way to honor his dead son’s legacy would be to implement further incremental regulatory reform, along the lines of what Barack Obama did; and that people who disagree and think that radical reform is necessary—among them, presumably, the 80 percent or so of Democrats who say it’s important to nominate a presidential candidate who supports Medicare for All—are dishonoring his son’s legacy. A hell of a pitch!

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.