The Democrats’ $3.5 trillion agreed-upon budget for a social infrastructure plan prioritized expanded coverage for dental, vision, and hearing care services under Medicare, marking a major victory for Bernie Sanders and the liberal arm of the party.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other top Democrats announced an agreement on a top-line budget of $3.5 trillion to spend on a sweeping “human infrastructure” package on Tuesday that would address parts of President Joe Biden’s agenda to extend child tax credits for needy families, shore up the social safety net, and pour federal resources into addressing climate change.
While the details of the expanded benefits to be provided under Medicare are still under wraps, Democrats plan to add coverage for hearing tests, most dental procedures such as cleanings and fillings, and eye exams for those who need prescriptions for eyeglasses or contact lenses.
“Every major program that President Biden has asked us for is funded in a robust way,” Schumer said on Tuesday. “Most important, something that Sen. Sanders has led, and convinced America is so important, which is a robust expansion of Medicare, including money for dental, vision, and hearing.”
Traditional Medicare plans, which provide health coverage to seniors over 65, do not include coverage for hearing, dental, and vision services, and patients who want that coverage have to enroll in either a Medicare Advantage plan or a private insurance plan. Sanders, a Vermont socialist, has led the push to provide the additional benefits to Medicare beneficiaries, an expensive undertaking that would have been a non-starter for Republicans. Sanders, who chairs the Senate budget committee, envisioned a much larger package valued at about $6 trillion, which also would have lowered the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 60.
Democrats will have to convert their plans into legislation to be passed in both chambers, but their success will not hinge on support from the other party. Rather, the Democrats will go it alone using a process called budget reconciliation to skirt the GOP filibuster, requiring only a simple majority in the Senate to pass.
“Seniors should be able to grow old in the United States and be able to hear the world around them, clearly see their loved ones, and keep teeth in their mouths,” Sanders said on Tuesday. “We must expand Medicare to cover hearing aids, vision, and dental care.”
The Democrats’ infrastructure package would accompany a slimmer $1 trillion bipartisan plan to address traditional infrastructure projects such as repairing roads and bridges.
Virginia Democrat Mark Warner said Tuesday that the package would be paid for with unspecified tax increases, but those details will be hammered out in committees. Democrats will also have to curry favor with centrists in the party as well, such as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who is wary of raising the corporate tax rate to Biden’s proposed 28% and piling on to the national debt.
“I know my Democratic colleagues on the Budget Committee have worked hard and I look forward to reviewing their agreement,” Manchin said on Wednesday. “I’m also very interested in how this proposal is paid for and how it enables us to be globally competitive.”
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Original Author: Cassidy Morrison