Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other lawmakers on Sunday sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking for an expansion of Medicare benefits to be included in the upcoming American Families Plan, a roughly $1.8 trillion spending and tax plan aimed at rebuilding the U.S. economy.
Sanders, along with Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), led 13 other lawmakers in drafting a letter to Biden urging for extended health benefits.
The lawmakers are seeking that Biden reduce the Medicare eligibility age; expand Medicare benefits to include hearing, dental and vision care; implement a cap on out-of-pocket expenses under traditional Medicare; and negotiate lower drug prices for the program.
“Medicare has been one of the most successful and popular federal programs in our nation’s history since it was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. Now, 55 years later, the time is long overdue for us to expand and improve this program so that millions of older Americans can receive the health care they need, including eyeglasses, hearing aids and dental care,” the letter stated.
The letter comes just days before the American Families Plan is expected to be released ahead of Biden’s joint address to Congress on Wednesday. The new plan is set to include billions of dollars in funding related to education, child care and climate change.
However, just how much the new plan will include overhauls and funding for healthcare remains up in the air. As of Friday, White House officials were planning to include a last-minute $200 billion allocation to extend health insurance subsidies through the Affordable Care Act, The Washington Post reported.
According to that report, the White House is also planning to scrap an earlier measure that would reduce consumer and government spending on prescription drugs – falling in direct opposition to the 17 lawmakers’ new letter.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that expanding access to health care and making it more affordable remains a top priority for the Biden administration. Psaki added that while the initial drafts of the spending plan will be released on Wednesday, the plan is still a work in progress and could include several additional measures.
“Even as he’s making these decisions, that the American Families Plan and his speech on Wednesday, will not represent the totality of every priority item for him and every item on his agenda that he wants to move forward as president,” Psaki said.
Biden’s new plan will be partially funded by several tax increases on high-income Americans and investors, and will represent the second phase of his $4 trillion “Build Back Better” economic agenda. Combined with the $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal the White House previously released, the plan will represent the biggest overhaul to the American economy in decades, the Post reported.
On Sunday, the 17 Democratic lawmakers said the new plan could represent a “historic” moment to improve Medicare for millions of Americans.
“We have an historic opportunity to make the most significant expansion of Medicare since it was signed into law. We look forward to working with you to make this a reality and, in the process, substantially improve the lives of millions of older Americans and persons with disabilities,” the letter added.
Newsweek contacted Sanders for additional comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.