After weeks of whispers about Joe Biden’s mental state and a constant cataloguing of his gaffes by the political press, one of his opponents in the Democratic nominating contest finally broached the issue, if somewhat obliquely, to the former vice-president’s face at Thursday night’s debate in Houston.
Julián Castro was the one to do it. The former HUD secretary, who served in the Obama administration with Biden, attempted to draw a distinction between his health-care plan and Biden’s, saying, “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. That’s a big difference.”
Biden responded, saying, “They do not have to buy in.” That’s when Castro pounced.
“You just said that two minutes ago. You just said two minutes that they would have to buy in.”
“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” Castro asked, repeating the line several times with slight variations.
The implication was clear, but Castro was wrong. Two minutes prior, Biden said that under his health-care plan, “every single person who is diagnosed with cancer or any other disease can automatically become part of this plan.”
And about ten minutes prior to that, Biden said it more plainly: “Anyone who can’t afford it gets automatically enrolled in the Medicare-type option we have.”
Castro pushed back on Friday morning, pointing out that during his earlier exchange with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, Biden said someone who has insurance through their employer, then loses their job “automatically can buy into this.”
But fact checkers found Castro was actually incorrect on the substance of the differences between his plan and Biden’s plan, and his implication that the former VP was forgetting the contents of his own plan. The Washington Post noted that Biden had already explained that under his plan anyone could choose to opt into Medicare, and anyone who could not afford it would be automatically enrolled:
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.
PolitiFact dug into the differences between Biden’s plan and Castro’s, concluding:
Castro’s plan is an opt-out plan while Biden’s is an opt-in plan, but the differences between those are much less than Castro suggests. Biden’s plan would guarantee Americans who are in need access to Medicare coverage, just like Castro’s would. The differences would likely amount to the nature or timing of paperwork, rather than being significant barriers to access.
Castro used this questionable distinction to charge that Biden had said opposing things within two minutes, but that’s an exaggeration at best.
The statement has an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, so we rate it Mostly False.
If Castro planned to go after Biden’s age, he probably would have been better off waiting for the former veep’s rambling answer to a question on race that somehow involved record players and Venezuela.
This post was update to include Castro’s response and further analysis of the exchange.