(EDGE) Former Vice President Joe Biden has dominated the current slate of Democratic hopefuls looking for the nod to take on Donald Trump in next year's presidential election, but South Bend, Indiana mayor - and openly gay candidate - Pete Buttigieg has surged in recent polls, even topping out at the top spot in an Iowa poll last month.

One of the more resonant concerns for voters has been the future of health care in America. Republican efforts to destroy the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (also dubbed "Obamacare," even though the program, approved under President Obama, was modeled on a state-level health care program initiated in Massachusetts in 2006 under then-governor Mitt Romney, a Republican) have continued into the Trump era. 

Now Biden is claiming that his plan for health care has been appropriated - or, in Biden's words, "stolen" - by Buttigieg, reports Reuters.

Biden made the accusation on Dec. 1. The Reuters article noted that Biden not only wants to preserve the Affordable Care Act but reinforce it with the addition of a "[pubic option," which would be administered by the federal government. The public option would coexist alongside private health insurance, giving consumers a choice.

Reuters explains Buttigieg's take this way:

Biden told the media that Buttigieg "stole" the idea from him, and asked, "What would you have done to me? You'd have torn my ears off" if Biden had "stolen" another candidate's proposal.

When Reuters reached out to the Buttigieg campaign for comment on the matter, they were reminded that Buttigieg was using the phrase "Medicare for All" before Biden entered the race.

Biden limited his putative critique of Buttigieg, however, going on to say, "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." 

Reuters noted that the other front-runners in the race, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, are "pushing for a government-backed Medicare for All system that would provide federal health insurance coverage for all Americans based on the government-run Medicare program for Americans 65 and older."

Buttigieg - who astonished political news-watchers earlier this year with phenomenally strong out-of-the-gate fundraising - rocketed to the top of a poll conducted by Monmouth University and released on Nov. 12. CNN reported that the poll showed Buttigieg leading the pack with 22%, with Biden trailing by three percentage points at 19%. Warren slipped to 18%, and Sanders actually improved his standing as compared to late summer polls, climbing to 13%.

The process for selecting the Democratic nominee in next year's election kicks off in Iowa on Feb. 3.