Sanders Pitches $1,000 Debit Cards for Seniors in Budget Bill

Seniors could get $1,000 loaded onto a debit card for dental visits, hearing aides or eye glasses, under a plan from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

The debit cards—which Sanders has called vouchers—would be means-tested for Medicare beneficiaries. The funds would be available to individuals making less than $75,000 per year and families with incomes under $150,000, similar to the rules used for stimulus funds during the pandemic.

The money would be given out to seniors before planned new benefits can be rolled out, Sanders said. That would ensure people in Medicare can pay for health services sooner than the government can offer them as a central part of the public health program.

“The goal is to provide dental care, hearing aides and eye glasses as soon as possible,” he said.

Sanders wants to tack the proposal onto Democrats’ reconciliation package, through which lawmakers want to expand Medicare to include hearing, vision, and dental benefits. Under a House proposal, dental benefits wouldn’t start until 2028.

Even limiting the money to seniors under a certain income could cost tens of billions of dollars.

There were 63 million people on Medicare by July 2021, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Half of all seniors on Medicare had incomes below $26,200 in 2016, according to a 2017 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Sanders said he’s working with the Department of Health and Human Services on creating the new debit cards, which would be limited to use for dental, hearing or eye care.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com

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