Bernie Sanders says Senate Democrats weighing $1,000 voucher for seniors to purchase new Medicare benefits
- Sanders said Senate
Democratsare weighing $1,000 vouchers for seniors to buy new Medicare benefits.
- "I think what we're looking at is here's $1,000 right away, use that to go to a dentist if you cannot afford to go," he told Insider.
- Experts say it could take years for Medicare to set up a new dental coverage program.
"In terms of the voucher, what we want to do is make sure that people understand the significance," the Vermont independent told Insider. "So as a bridge, I think what we're looking at is here's $1,000 right away, use that to go to a dentist if you cannot afford to go. That's very temporary, but maybe a bridge for a year."
Senate Democrats are seeking to expand Medicare so it covers dental, vision, and hearing benefits in their party-line social spending package. Widening the reach of the federal health insurance program is a top priority for Sanders as chair of the Senate Budget Committee and it has backing from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
House Democrats introduced legislation for Medicare to gradually initiate vision coverage next year, hearing in 2023, with dental covered in 2028. But Sanders has said he favors a faster timeline for dental coverage.
The measure emphasizes the challenges that Democrats face as they attempt to provide tangible benefits to Americans in a social spending package that's still taking shape - for seniors in particular ahead of next year's midterms. Americans over age 65 generally vote at higher rates, making seniors a key voting bloc during presidential elections and more so in midterm races.
The Oregon Democrat drew a parallel with the Affordable Care Act a decade ago - President
Other Senate Democrats also want to implement the programs sooner rather than later. "I think we should try to get it stood up as fast as we could," Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania told Insider. "I'm not saying we could do it in a matter of months, but I think you can do it a lot faster than a couple of years."
But experts say it could take years for Medicare to design and implement new programs. Medicare was last expanded in 2003 under President George W. Bush to cover prescription drugs, and it started providing coverage three years later.
For dentists, who largely don't form part of federal health programs, the process would include setting reimbursement rates and signing up enough dental providers to cover tens of millions of Americans. Tricia Neuman, executive director of Medicare policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, recently told Insider it could take years for the federal government to "successfully" implement a new dental benefit.
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