Joe Biden has accused his Democratic presidential rival Pete Buttigieg of "stealing" his healthcare policy proposal, after the mayor of South Bend, Indiana leapfrogged him in the early voting state of Iowa.
The former vice president has laid out a plan to expand the Affordable Care Act, one of the biggest legislative accomplishments of the Obama administration, by adding a public option that's open to all Americans, but preserving the option for individuals to keep their private insurance.
Like Biden, Buttigieg has said he would offer public health insurance to those who want it while also maintaining private health care plans -- a proposal he dubbed "Medicare for all who want it."
"He stole it," Biden told reporters on his campaign bus in Iowa, according to Reuters. Biden said he would face criticism if he copied another candidate’s health plan. "What would you have done to me? You'd have torn my ears off."
Buttigieg's campaign declined to comment, but pointed to statements from Buttigieg about "Medicare for all who want it" that he made before Biden announced he was running for president in April.
"There are some legitimate questions about the pathway to Medicare-for-All," Buttigieg said in February. "The flavor that I prefer is what I would call Medicare for All Who Want It...Take a version of Medicare, or something like it, make it available as a public option on the exchange, and then if people like me are right that this will over time become the most efficient and preferred means, then this will be a very natural glide path to a single-payer environment."
Biden's comments come as he looks to thwart the meteoric rise of Buttigieg, who's surged in both Iowa and New Hampshire polls in recent months.
Progressive rivals Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are also in the running to win Iowa during the caucus on Feb. 3. Both candidates have endorsed eliminating private insurance in favor of Medicare-for-all, though they have faced criticism over the cost of such ambitious plans.