Legislative Update: September 2021

Senate Haggles Over How to Pay for Adding Popular Benefits to Medicare

By Shannon Benton, Executive Director

Senate Democrats have committed to adding dental, vision, and hearing care to Medicare, in addition to expanding long term care benefits to help people receive home and community - based services.  But the ambitious plan is forcing some tough discussions with colleagues from both parties over how to pay for the estimated $358 billion in proposed new Medicare spending over the next decade.

The gap in coverage for these benefits has existed since the program began in 1965, but this can come as a surprise for new Medicare beneficiaries and, all too often, catches people short.

Dental, vision and hearing services come with some hefty out – of – pocket costs as people age.  In addition, everyday eyeglasses, contact lenses and hearing aids aren’t covered by Medicare either.

To get that type of coverage, retirees and those with disabilities often enroll in Medicare Advantage plans, many of which offer some options for these benefits.  But not all Medicare recipients have access to Medicare Advantage Plans with these options, and even those who do sometimes learn the benefits that are offered can be skimpy.  In addition, some of you have reported that the extra benefits offered by the Medicare Advantage Plans in your area, aren’t available to all beneficiaries, but rather only to folks whose incomes are low enough to also qualify for Medicaid.

According to TSCL’s Senior Surveys, more than half of older households have no dental insurance coverage, and 34% had not received routine dental care in two years or more.  It’s little wonder that 81% of survey participants support adding a dental benefit to Medicare.

Members of Congress are discussing paying for the new benefits by including a provision that would allow Medicare to directly negotiate lower prices for drugs.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that would save the government an estimated $345 billion over the first ten years.  Medicare beneficiaries would save too, in lower out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs.  Eighty - eight percent of participants in TSCL’s Senior Survey support allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

TSCL strongly supports provisions that would add dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare, while lowering costs for prescription drugs.  We encourage you to contact Members of Congress and to ask your lawmakers to add these important benefits to Medicare.