Sanders says House Democrats' proposal falls short on Medicare dental benefits

Sanders says House Democrats' proposal falls short on Medicare dental benefits
© Julia Nikhinson

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersPelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill topline higher than Senate's Groups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war Congress must address the looming debt crisis MORE (I-Vt.) on Wednesday criticized a proposal from House Democrats for taking too many years to provide dental benefits to seniors on Medicare, comments that illustrate an intraparty debate as Democrats craft their coming $3.5 trillion package.

The proposal released by Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday would not begin Medicare dental benefits until 2028.

"Do I think we should take such a long time to implement the dental provisions? No I don't," Sanders said on a press call when asked about the House proposal.

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He acknowledged that the proposal is "complicated" in its implementation, but added: "I don't want to see it drawn out to as far as the House has proposed."

The comments are part of long-running jockeying between Democrats over which priorities will get more money in the coming $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. There is not enough funding to give every health priority all that its backers want, and delaying dental benefits until 2028, in addition to giving time for implementation, also saves money.

Sanders and other progressives are making expanding Medicare to include dental, hearing and vision a major priority.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill topline higher than Senate's McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE (D-Calif.), on the other hand, has a top priority of extending enhanced Affordable Care Act subsidies that give people greater help in affording their premiums, bolstering the health care law that is one of her signature achievements. House leaders are also prioritizing money to expand Medicaid in the 12 GOP-led states that have not done so. 

Asked about the Medicare versus ACA debate on Wednesday, Pelosi said, "I think both will be present, that's not a problem," noting that she is "all for" adding dental, hearing and vision to Medicare as well.

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While both the Medicare benefits and ACA subsidies are expected to be included in the package in some form, there is debate over the phase-in dates and how long each of them will last. Progressives are also pushing to limit the copays seniors will have to pay for their new benefits.

The moderate House New Democrat Coalition is lining up on the side of more funding for the ACA and the Medicaid expansion, over adding Medicare benefits.

“New Dems are all-in on making the ACA subsidies in the American Rescue Plan permanent and expanding Medicaid in non-expansion states," said an aide to a New Democrat member. "The coalition believes that should take priority over the Medicare pieces. We’re being realistic that we only have so much we can do and the ARP subsidies were widely successful in lowering health care premiums for 9 million middle class Americans.”