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Bernie Sanders says Senate Democrats weighing $1,000 voucher for seniors to purchase new Medicare benefits

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) arrives at the Capitol on October 20, 2020. Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images
  • Sanders said Senate Democrats are 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.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Tuesday said Senate Democrats were considering $1,000 vouchers for seniors to access expanded Medicare benefits that could form a major part of a $3.5 trillion social spending plan they want to pass this month. He said it would serve as a brief stop-gap measure while the programs are implemented.

"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.

Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told Insider he'd been discussing the idea with Sanders. "I'm talking with Senator Sanders about the best way to get this up and running efficiently as quickly as possible," he said.

The Oregon Democrat drew a parallel with the Affordable Care Act a decade ago - President Barack Obama's signature health law - saying the four-year "delay" setting it up after it was made law contributed to an "understandable skepticism people have about government."

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.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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