Health Insurance, the Medicare program for older Americans would cover dental, vision and hearing care as part of a massive $3.5 trillion budget plan reached by Democrats this week that would dramatically widen the net of government funded social security.
The spending deal – announced on Tuesday – would invest billions in an array of planned health, education, environment and social programs as Democrats seek to use their monopoly of power in Washington to squeeze through a slate left-wing priorities.
“Older adults should be able to grow old in the United States and be able to hear the world around them, see their loved ones clearly and keep their teeth in their mouths,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. in a tweet. “That’s not a sweeping statement. We need to expand Medicare to cover hearing aids, vision, and dental care.”
Still, the budget faces a long road to passage: Democrats must garner continued support for the measure in order to use their slimmest possible Senate majority to pass it using a procedural tool known as Reconciliation, which allows them to circumvent a 60-vote Republican filibuster.
Progressives such as Sanders had pushed up to $6 trillion in new spending, while moderate lawmakers pushed for a smaller figure that won’t add to the country’s already record deficit.
“We know we have a long way to go,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said this week. “If we pass this, it’s the most profound change to help American families in generations.”
Biden has campaigned to expand the Affordable Care Act and has repeatedly pledged to lower the Medicare eligible age to 60, with an option for people aged 60 to 64 to retain coverage.
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It’s unclear whether the proposed budget, which has yet to be turned into legislation, would lower the eligibility age for Medicare to 60 – a policy that could cover up to 11.7 million people with insurance employers, 2.4 million people with private coverage and an additional 1.6 million people uninsured, according to an estimation published by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit organization based in San Francisco.
More than 60 million people, the majority of whom are 65 or older, rely on Medicare as their primary health insurance. The government created the program in 1965 under former President Lyndon B. Johnson, although it was expanded in 1972 to include some people under age 65 who have long-term disabilities.
Medicare is the second largest program in the federal budget. In 2018, it cost $582 billion, or about 14% of total federal spending. In 2016, half of people on Medicare had income below $26,200 per person and savings of less than $74,450, according to KFF.
The program helps pay for a host of medical services, including hospitalizations, doctor visits, prescription drugs, preventive services, skilled nursing and home care, and palliative care. However, it does not cover dental, vision or hearing related procedures.
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Still, it’s unclear whether the measure would receive the necessary support from the 50 Senate Democrats. Moderate members, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have indicated they want to pursue a bipartisan deal only on infrastructure and have not committed to using reconciliation to adopt more progressive priorities.