House Dems Urge Biden to Expand Medicare in Economic Plan

House Dems Urge Biden to Expand Medicare in Economic Plan pramila jayapal speaks into mic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., holds a news conference to announce legislation that would tax the net worth of America's wealthiest individuals at the U.S. Capitol on March 01, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

By Theodore Bunker | Monday, 26 April 2021 10:32 AM

More than 20 House Democrats have signed a letter to President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris urging them to expand eligibility for Medicare and to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, Politico reports.

The letter was led by Democrat Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington, Jared Golden of Maine, Joe Neguse of Colorado, and Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania, among others. It calls for the Biden administration to lower the age of eligibility for Medicare to 60 or 55, providing coverage for vision, dental, hearing, and a cap on out-of-pocket costs, as well as the ability for Medicare to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers over prices.

"We write to ask that the American Families Plan put forth a critical investment in health care to bolster the security of our country’s economy and families," the letter reads. "By prioritizing the inclusion of robust drug-pricing provisions, we can produce enormous federal savings and use it to sustainably expand health coverage, equity, and access. As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic — the nation’s most acute health care crisis in the last century — now more than ever, we must ensure that families and older adults are equipped with the health coverage they need. Medicare is one of the most popular and foundational federal programs in the United States. You have previously expressed commitments to expanding Medicare eligibility, improving its benefits package, and empowering Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies."

Biden, during his campaign for the White House, promised to end the "outrageous exception" that pharmaceutical companies used to avoid negotiating directly with Medicare.

"The United States spends, by far, more on prescription drugs than any other country, despite Medicare Part D being the largest purchaser in the world," the legislators wrote. "The Congressional Budget Office estimated Medicare could save over $450 billion and increase revenue by $45 billion over the next decade by requiring Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies."

The lawmakers note that "Lowering the Medicare age would provide immediate coverage for millions of older adults who are still uninsured or underinsured," and cite a study from Stanford University that found "that many older adults delay care for financial reasons until they have Medicare coverage," which contributes to the sudden rise in cancer diagnoses among Americans over the age of 65.

The Stanford researchers "also concluded that individuals ages 61-64 ‘often lack insurance as a result of early retirement, pre-existing conditions hindering renewal, the high cost of private insurance and other causes.’ Additionally, up to 25 percent of adults in this age group become uninsured or have experienced a gap in medical coverage prior to becoming eligible for Medicare. Lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60 could enable an additional 23 million people to access Medicare coverage. Meanwhile lowering the Medicare eligibility to 55 could expand Medicare coverage to over 40 million people. Expanding Medicare to these age groups is critical for 2 addressing inequities in health coverage and access, as communities of color and low-income individuals are disproportionately more likely to be uninsured."

The letter from House Democrats comes one day after a group of Democrats in the Senate sent a letter with similar requests to Biden on Sunday, ahead of the president’s upcoming address to a joint session of Congress this week.

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