Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden accused his fast-rising rival Pete Buttigieg of stealing his healthcare policy as both of them battle to gain the upper hand in the state of Iowa. 

“He stole it,” Biden told reporters Monday. The former vice president has been campaigning in Iowa for eight days in a bid to halt his recent slide in polls. 

The Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, was a landmark policy that was rolled out in the tenure of former Democratic President Barack Obama. Biden had proposed expanding the existing act by adding a “public option” in it. This would allow individuals to go for a government plan and would not affect the existing role for private insurers as opposed to Medicare for All.

Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, like Biden proposed the public option and coined the phrase 'Medicare for all who want it' to describe his policy. However, Biden clearly felt that his rival had copied his policy concept and accused him of stealing, Reuters reported

He added that everyone would have criticized him if he had copied the plans of another contender. 

“What would you have done to me? You’d have torn my ears off,” Biden told reporters on his campaign bus in Iowa.

Buttigieg’s campaign did not respond immediately to the allegations made by Biden.

Recent surveys show Buttigieg leading in the state of Iowa. U.S. senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are not far behind in the standings according to the polls in the state. Both Warren and Sanders have been pushing for a government-backed 'Medicare for All' scheme that would provide comprehensive health care to every man, woman, and child in our country -- without out-of-pocket expenses.

Biden, who is still among the leaders in the national polls had refrained from attacking Buttigieg till now saying he had no negative feelings about the South Bend Mayor.

“Anything I say about Pete will be taken as being a criticism or a negative about Pete, and I don’t have any negative feelings about Pete at all. I think he’s a talented guy,” Biden told reporters Sunday.

The Iowa Caucus, which will be the first nominating contest for Democrats, will be held on Feb. 3.