Sanders promises to plug Medicare's coverage holes for older Americans

Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – who is a 2020 presidential hopeful – promised that his Medicare for All plan would provide better health coverage to older Americans, even as the program expands to eventually encompass all U.S. residents.

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During a speech in D.C. on Wednesday, Sanders said that while the Medicare program is “strong” and “popular,” it does not provide all of the benefits that seniors need.

Sanders noted that during the first of a four-year Medicare for All phase-in period, benefits for older Americans would be expanded to include dental care, hearing aids and eye glasses.

“The last that I heard, the ability to hear, the ability to see, the desire to have teeth in your mouth is a health care issue,” Sanders said. “Despite what you’re hearing about Medicare for seniors being weakened, the truth is exactly the opposite – it will be strengthened.”

Criticism of Sanders’ proposal involves how costs would be covered.

Sanders said during the first round of Democratic debates in Miami last month that middle class taxes would rise in order to pay for the proposal. He defended that tax increase on Wednesday by saying that insurance premiums today are essentially taxes on the middle class.

During a recent podcast interview with NPR, Sanders said taxes could rise by $10,000 for American families.

“Of course some people are going to pay more in taxes,” Sanders said.

He added that a family currently paying $20,000 for private insurance – in premiums and out-of-pocket expenses – would see that obligation eliminated. Instead, taxes would increase by $10,000.

“Is that a good deal? I think it’s a pretty good deal,” he said.

Sanders unveiled his updated Medicare for All bill in April, which would expand coverage of the government-run program to all Americans, not just those over the age of 65. He pushed a similar proposal in 2017.

According to one estimate, which was disputed by Sanders’ campaign, Medicare for All could cost more than $32 trillion over the course of a decade.

More than a dozen other senators have signed onto the bill as co-sponsors.

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Medicare for All has become a divisive issue within the Democratic party as lawmakers and 2020 contenders squabble over the best way to expand coverage to more people. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is for the proposal, but others, including Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, raised reservations about Sanders’ plan, and instead supports legislation that would allow people to keep their employer-based plan if they wished to do so. Others, like former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, do not think Medicare for All is the best option.