President Joe Biden is set to unveil the next phase of his massive plan to rebuild the American economy this week, and a collection of Democratic senators from a broad ideological spectrum are asking the President to make sure the proposal includes improvements to the health care system.
In a letter obtained by CNN, 17 senators specifically ask for Biden to lower 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 allow the program to negotiate lower drug prices.
Biden’s plan is expected to include proposals related to education, child care and climate change. What remains an open question is what plans the administration has to include health care in the package.
Health care could be a dicey negotiating point with some Democrats in Congress hoping for expansions to Medicaid and Medicare while others are looking for changes to the Affordable Care Act. There could also be a fight over reigning in the cost of prescription drugs, a goal Democrats share but have different views on how to make happen.
All of that could lead the White House to hold off on adding another complicated policy to an already overloaded package and instead try to make a run at health care later in the year.
But these 17 Democrats want Biden to make that move now.
“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 reads.
The letter is led by Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Ben Cardin of Maryland. It has a broad range of Democratic support from both progressives like Sanders and Warren, as well from Democrats in leadership like Stabenow and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York are also signatories.
While the White House has teased bits and pieces of the plan, officials insist that it is still a work in progress and aspects of it could be dropped our added before it is formally released. The specifics are expected to be unveiled ahead of Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday to mark his first 100 days in office. Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and members of his Cabinet are expected to hit the road to sell the plan immediately after.
The White House declined to say if health care would be part of this particular proposal, but press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that expanding access to health care and making it more affordable remain a priority for Biden and his administration.
“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.
But the Democratic senators – nervous about their party’s tight margins in both the House and the Senate – believe Biden needs to act quickly to enact meaningful change and that these changes to health care are urgent.
“We have an historic opportunity to make the most significant expansion of Medicare since it was signed into law,” the letter reads. “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.”