Medicare – the health insurance program that most older Americans rely on – would cover teeth, sight and hearing, according to a budget deal announced by Senate Democrats late Tuesday.
The proposal for expanded coverage was included in a plan to spend $ 3.5 trillion over the next decade on climate change, health care and family service programs, all of which are part of President Joe Biden’s economic program. While there is no certainty that everything in the budget plan will survive the entire congressional process, Medicare supporters are hopeful that the coverage of additional benefits will materialize.
“This would be a very big deal for Medicare and Medicare beneficiaries,” said David Lipschutz, deputy director and senior political attorney at Medicare Advocacy.
“If Congress adds [those] benefits, it would fill some of the major gaps in coverage that the program has had since its inception, ”Lipschutz said.
About 62.7 million people have enrolled in Medicare, most of them aged 65 and over, and rely on it as their primary health insurance. The program was created through congressional legislation in 1965 under President Lyndon Johnson, and largely reflected health care standards at the time that did not involve extensive coverage for teeth, sight, and hearing, Lipschutz said.
“But as the health care system has evolved, Medicare has often been slow to catch up,” he said.
The original Medicare consists of Part A (hospital coverage) and Part B (outpatient coverage). With limited exceptions, dental, visual or auditory hearing does not include coverage, which may result in beneficiaries giving up treatment.
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“It would be a significant improvement [to provide coverage] for people who are often left without the care they need because they can’t afford it, and for people who pay a lot for the care they need, ”said Tricia Neuman, director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Medicare policy program.
Some beneficiaries receive limited coverage in terms of teeth, vision and hearing if they wish to receive the benefits of Parts A and B delivered through the Advantage Plan (Part C), which often includes these additional services. About 40% of beneficiaries are involved in Advantage plans.
However, Lipschutz said the extra coverage is usually not comprehensive. On the other hand, if extended benefits — no matter how generous — were required under the original Medicare program, they became standard in the Advantage Plan.
“We hope this will enrich the benefits for all beneficiaries,” Lipschutz said.
Although the financing of extended coverage was not specified in more detail, Biden has proposed imposing higher taxes on the rich and businesses.
The Senate Democrat announcement also provided little information on the proposed changes, although other efforts to expand Medicare coverage may provide some clues.
The bill presented last week by Representative Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, would include dentures, preventative and emergency dental care, refractive index tests and glasses, and hearing aids and exams.
Extended coverage was also included in the broader health care bill, which emptied Parliament in 2019, but was not taken into account by the Senate. Under this proposal, beneficiaries would have received the usual 20% of dental care. Large treatments – i.e. bridges, crowns, root canals – would have cost more. Dentures would also be covered in boundaries. And routine eye and hearing tests as well as hearing aids, contact lenses and glasses would have been included as well.