“Lowering the eligibility age and improving its benefits package would provide immediate and substantial relief for millions of individuals throughout the United States, as well as much-needed long-term security,” says the letter, which has already garnered nearly 60 signatures from House Democrats. “Now is a historic opportunity to also make an important expansion of Medicare that will guarantee health care for millions of older adults and people with disabilities struggling with the health and economic realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The letter, which builds on a similar effort by their Senate Democratic colleagues, is being led by Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse, one of the standout lawmakers from the class of 2018 who serves in House leadership; Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington; and two members from the more moderate end of the party, Pennsylvania’s Conor Lamb and Maine’s Jared Golden.
The letter proposes two potential options to lower the eligibility age for the popular benefit: reducing it to 60 years old from the current 65 years of age could expand coverage to more than 23 million people, while reducing the age by 10 years to 55 years old would expand coverage to more than 40 million.
“Addressing inequities in health coverage and access, as communities of color and low-income individuals are disproportionately more likely to be uninsured,” they wrote.
The letter’s authors also suggest the administration improve Medicare benefits to cover dental, vision and hearing benefits, and say that the government could pay for the expansion by negotiating with pharmaceutical companies to lower the price of prescription drugs. They cite a study by the Congressional Budget Office that estimates the Medicare program would save over $450 billion and increase revenues by $45 billion over the next decade with this approach.
There’s a growing push by Democrats in Congress to shape the bill ahead of Mr. Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday. The House Democrats’ letter on Medicare follows a similar letter from Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, a longtime champion of the issue, who is asking the president to reduce the eligibility age to as low as 50 years old, expand benefits to include hearing, dental and vision care, implement a cap on out-of-pocket expenses and negotiate drug prices.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently released a statement announcing the reintroduction of the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, writing, “Lowering health costs and prescription drug prices will be a top priority for House Democrats to be included in the American Families Plan.”
In another effort, Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Katherine Clark wrote to Mr. Biden with nearly 40 House and Senate colleagues asking him to include at least $700 billion in the next 10 years for long-term, structural investments in universal childcare that would remake it as an entitlement program for families who need it, capping out-of-pocket costs, and raising payment rates for providers.