WASHINGTON – A broad coalition of Democrats across the ideological spectrum plans Thursday to launch what promises to be a noisy and sustained campaign to pressure President Biden to include a major Medicare expansion in its infrastructure package.
More than 150 House Democrats, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the leader of the progressive wing in the House, and Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, one of the House’s most centrist Democrats, have joined in the ‘effort, which is almost certain to attract Republican opposition, but contains popular proposals among a wide segment of voters.
Disappointed that Mr. Biden has not yet fulfilled a campaign promise to expand Medicare benefits, members of the group, who together make up nearly 70 percent of House Democrats, have signed a letter launching their campaign. pressure. Organizers say it will include opinion articles and press events. Representatives Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania and Joe Neguse of Colorado are also in the lead.
“It’s really unusual to get that level of intensity in a health care proposal,” Ms. Jayapal in an interview.
At the heart of the plan is a call to reduce the age of eligibility for Medicare to 60 from 65, adding about 23 million Americans to the federal health care program for seniors at a cost of $ 200 billion in ten years. Lawmakers are also pushing to expand Medicare benefits to cover dental and hearing loss, which would cost about $ 350 billion in ten years.
Lawmakers say the costs would be more than offset by the third element of their package: Medicare’s ability to negotiate drug prices. Ms. Jayapal said this change – one that Democrats have been pushing unsuccessfully for years – could generate up to $ 650 billion in a decade, although the Congressional budget office has estimated the savings in about $ 450 billion during that period.
Golden, who has opposed some major spending in the past, including Biden’s nearly $ 1.9 trillion stimulus law, said the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has the power to negotiate drug prices for veterans, he pays much less for prescription drugs than the rest of the government.
The Government Accountability Office found that the department paid an average of 54 percent less in 2017 for prescription drugs than Medicare.
Lawmakers have been involved in Zoom calls with White House officials on the proposal, which they hope Mr. Biden will incorporate into a large spending package that can pass the Senate through this year’s quick budget reconciliation process.
It is unclear whether Mr. Biden and other Democrats in Congress will accept the push, as Democratic leaders have focused on a competitive effort to make permanent a temporary expansion of health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. which was included in the stimulus law. . This proposal has broad support, including hospitals, which want to charge higher private insurance rates, and insurers, who want more people to buy their products. Any effort to expand Medicare is likely to meet with resistance from these same groups.
May 26, 2021, at 9:17 p.m. ET
But Mrs. Jayapal argued that the two health care proposals were compatible. He said negotiating lower drug prices could also generate enough money to pay for changes to the Affordable Care Act. If not, “there are many collections that are possible and necessary,” he said.
Medicare proposals have proven popular among so-called front-line Democrats (those representing conservative-leaning districts), with more than a dozen people signing the effort, underscoring its cross-party appeal.
After meeting with White House officials on the issue, Mr. Neguse argued that Democrats could go even further and reduce the Medicare eligibility age to 55 to cover more than 40 million additional people.
“Many of our nation’s seniors cannot receive care because of their illnesses because Medicare benefits are not as broad as they should be,” he said.
Democrats say at least 75 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who need a hearing aid don’t have one and much of the country has low rates of visiting the dentist or getting eye exams.
Golden said that when he spoke to voters, he repeatedly heard that the change would help residents in his district.
“How crazy is it that we pay Medicare for our entire working life, and then at the time you probably need more dental care, Medicare doesn’t even cover it?” He said. “I know older people are frustrated by that.”
About 20 senators, led by Vermont-independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, have come together to make a similar call to the White House on the issue.