The $3.5 trillion budget blueprint agreed to by Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee reportedly includes vision, dental and hearing coverage through Medicare – a major change for the program that provides health insurance for more than 32 million Americans.
The added benefits have long been a goal for progressive Democrats, though they are not part of President Biden’s proposal for Medicare, which focuses on lowering the Medicare eligibility age and reducing drug costs through direct negotiations with pharmaceutical firms.
If enacted, the expansion would provide millions of older Americans with coverage they currently lack. “This would be a very significant change for Medicare,” Tricia Neuman of the Kaiser Family Foundation told Bloomberg News. “How big an impact it will have will depend on the details of the proposals.”
Democrats are considering adding the benefits to Medicare Part B, which covers outpatient services. Preventive services would be free, and elective services would include limited copays. Premiums for Part B, which is voluntary, could rise with the addition of the new benefits.
More bills to pay: According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis of an earlier but similar proposal, the additional benefits would cost about $358 billion over a 10-year period ending in 2029, with most of the spending going toward dental care. Democrats have pledged to cover any new costs produced by their still-developing spending bill.