Senate Democrats are exploring a sweeping $6 trillion budget reconciliation bill that would include a major expansion of Medicare, a long-time priority of progressive lawmakers.
The spending measure, which is being crafted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders would build on the dual economic proposals unveiled earlier this year by President Biden: the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan and the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan.
But the package – which Democrats could pass on a party-line vote using their slimmest-possible Senate majority – includes other Democratic goals, such as lowering Medicare's eligibility age from 65 to 55 or 60 and expanding the program to cover dental work, glasses and eye surgeries as well as hearing aids, according to Politico, which first reported the news.
"There’s a gaping hole in Medicare that leaves out coverage for dental, vision, and hearing — this is a serious problem," Schumer, D-N.Y., tweeted on Monday. "I’m working with @SenSanders to push to include dental, vision, and hearing Medicare coverage in the American Jobs and Families Plans.
Lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60 could provide coverage for up to 11.7 million people with employer-based insurance, 2.4 million people with private coverage and another 1.6 million people who are uninsured, according to one estimate published by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit based in San Francisco. Medicare is the federal health care program for people over the age of 65.
"If you talk to family medicine or primary care doctors, they will tell you with certainty that ignoring medical issues related to dental, vision and hearing often devolves into far more serious medical problems for people — especially seniors — that cost more to treat and are harder to remedy," Schumer said during a news conference Sunday.
Biden campaigned on expanding the Affordable Care Act and repeatedly pledged to lower the qualifying Medicare age to 60, with an option for individuals between the ages of 60-64 to keep their coverage.
Under an early draft of the $6 trillion plan, about half of the proposed spending would be paid for, Politico reported. Democratic efforts to begin moving forward with a party-line bill will start within a few weeks.
"We expect to have a whole lot done in July," Sanders said last week.
Still, it's unclear whether the measure would receive the necessary support from all 50 Senate Democrats. Moderate members, including Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have indicated they want to pursue a bipartisan infrastructure-only deal and have not committed to using reconciliation to pass more progressive priorities.
Manchin also sounded the alarm over the nation's ballooning debt: An unprecedented level of federal stimulus spending has pushed the debt level to a record $28 trillion.
"We have to be conscious of the debt," Manchin told reporters on Thursday, noting that adding $3 trillion to the national debt is "a lot." An unprecedented level of spending on coronavirus relief efforts pushed the nation's debt to a record $28 trillion.