This would have been sooo much more effective if Julián Castro had actually known what he was talking about. He tangled with Joe Biden over an esoteric difference between their two health care plans, and Castro thought he’d gotten Biden to contradict himself. He accused Biden of forgetting what he’d just said “two minutes ago,” an accusation that the audience at last night’s Democratic presidential debate immediately understood as an attack on Biden’s age and cognitive skills (transcript via ABC News):
It all sounds like a major policy battle, but this is literally a battle over barely anything at all. It’s about whether the newly unemployed would get automatically enrolled in an Obamacare public option, or could choose to enroll instead:
CASTRO: … If they choose to hold on to strong, solid private health insurance, I believe they should be able to do. But the difference between what I support and what you support, Vice President Biden, is that you require them to opt in and I would not require them to opt in. They would automatically be enrolled. They wouldn’t have a buy in.
That’s a big difference, because Barack Obama’s vision was not to leave 10 million people uncovered. He wanted every single person in this country covered. My plan would do that. Your plan would not.
BIDEN: They do not have to buy in. They do not have to buy in.
CASTRO: You just said that. You just said that two minutes ago. You just two minutes ago that they would have to buy in.
BIDEN: Do not have to buy in if you can’t afford it.
CASTRO: You said they would have to buy in.
BIDEN: Your grandmother would not have to buy in. If she qualifies for Medicaid, she would automatically be enrolled.
CASTRO: Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago? I mean, I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in and now you’re saying they don’t have to buy in. You’re forgetting that.
BIDEN: I said anyone like your grandmother who has no money.
CASTRO: I mean, look, look, we need a health care system…
BIDEN: She — you’re automatically enrolled.
CASTRO: It automatically enrolls people regardless of whether they choose to opt in or not. If you lose your job, for instance, his health care plan would not automatically enroll you. You would have to opt in. My health care plan would. That’s a big difference. I’m fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama, and you’re not.
BIDEN: That’ll be a surprise to him.
Narrator: That was not a big difference. In fact, it’s barely a difference at all. Those who financially can’t afford any other option would get automatically enrolled in the Medicare option under Biden’s plan, but those who are transitioning between jobs could choose it for themselves if they want. Either way, they can still access it, so what’s the problem?
And as for the actual difference between the two, it was Castro who got it wrong, not Biden, the Washington Post explained:
But Biden didn’t actually forget anything. At least, not on the substance of the policy. Biden explained earlier that his plan does allow people to choose Medicare (“Medicare by choice,” he called it), but that people who qualify for it financially will automatically be enrolled in it.
There are people who automatically get enrolled in his plan. As Biden said, these people “do not have to buy in.” Castro might take issue with the fact some people do have to buy in. (Biden said earlier that if you lose your job and need new insurance, you could buy in to this.) But he was incorrect that Biden forgot something about his own plan. It was Castro who forgot what Biden said. …
A risky move for Castro just became riskier: He called out Biden in a way that could be considered below the belt. And he didn’t nail the substance. But it got us talking about him.
Not for long, though. Castro tried denying later what was obvious — he had planned to go on the attack before the night started in order to boost his flailing campaign and made Biden’s age an issue. Castro just chose his ground poorly and made himself look foolish and nasty in the process. The only bump Castro will get out of this is a bump off the debate stage, and the sooner the better.
Lost in all of this discussion is what a bad idea the “public option” is in the first place. It was a bad idea ten years ago when Democrats tried adding it to ObamaCare as a mechanism to price insurers out of the health-care industry and force Medicare for All through default. It’s just as bad an idea now and even more so now that (a) we know what M4A will cost, and (b) we know from our experience with the VA that the path to reform is more choice from government-controlled options and not less.