Politics

Bernie Sanders aims to lower Medicare eligibility age as part of Democrats' recovery plan

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Key Points
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders wants to include an expansion of Medicare eligibility as part of the economic recovery package Democrats aim to pass this year.
  • He wants to lower the eligibility age for coverage to 60 or 55 and expand coverage to include dental and vision, paying for the change by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies.
  • Democrats will likely pass part or all of their massive infrastructure and recovery package through budget reconciliation, which does not require Republican votes.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
Jemal Countess | Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders hopes to include a Medicare expansion in Democrats' upcoming economic recovery plan.

The Vermont independent and Senate Budget Committee chair hopes to lower the eligibility age for coverage to either 60 or 55 from the current 65, a Sanders aide confirmed Friday. Sanders also wants to ensure Medicare covers dental visits and glasses, among other medical needs.

He aims to fund the coverage expansion by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices directly with drug companies. Politico first reported the senator's plans.

Sanders wants to include the provision in Democrats' next budget reconciliation bill, which can pass with no Republican votes in the Senate split 50-50 by party. The Democrats may have to pass part or all of their sprawling infrastructure and economic recovery package — which could top $3 trillion — through the process.

The GOP has generally opposed the growth of government-run health-care programs.

President Joe Biden plans to unveil more details about his infrastructure proposal during a speech in Pittsburgh next week. Democrats want to address not only transportation, broadband and climate change in the proposal, but also paid leave, education and potentially health care.

The party has looked for ways to expand insurance coverage since it took unified control of the White House and Congress in January. Biden so far has not acted on his proposal to add a Medicare-like public option, as his top two legislative priorities after taking office were coronavirus relief and economic recovery packages.

Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., have called to include a public option in the next reconciliation bill.

Sanders has long supported a single-payer "Medicare for All" insurance system and said Medicare should be able to directly negotiate drug prices. He and Biden clashed during the 2020 presidential primary over how aggressively the U.S. should expand insurance coverage.

As head of the Budget Committee, Sanders would play a major role in getting the next reconciliation bill through Congress.

The Senate can use reconciliation once per fiscal year, so it has two more opportunities to pass legislation through the process during the current Congress.

The Biden administration is considering whether to split the recovery plan into two phases. Infrastructure provisions could have a better chance of winning Republican votes than plans to expand the social safety net.

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