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Should Medicare Offer Dental, Vision and Hearing Benefits?

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Democrats in Congress have recently proposed a major expansion of Medicare. The proposal would add hearing, dental and vision benefits to the coverage offerings.

Some of these benefits are now available only through add-on Medicare Advantage plans, rather than the traditional Medicare program. Senators have also proposed lowering the Medicare eligibility age and placing a cap on out-of-pocket expenses, as well as allowing the Medicare program to negotiate lower prescription drug prices.

Professors and authors of ALM’s Tax Facts Robert Bloink and William H. Byrnes shared their opposing political views about using the latest spending proposal to expand Medicare benefits for older Americans.

Below is a summary of the debate that ensued between the two professors.

Their Votes:

Bloink

Byrnes

Their Reasons:

Bloink: Lowering the age of Medicare eligibility reflects the reality that many Americans were pushed into early retirement during the pandemic. Expanding Medicare will help those Americans who need help the most.

It also makes sense to expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing benefits, which are vital to keeping older adults healthy longer and preventing more serious illness down the road. If we can do more to prevent Americans from getting sicker, we can actually save Medicare dollars in the long run.

Byrnes: We have limited federal funds to allocate to health care expansions and benefits. Lowering the Medicare eligibility age should be low on the list of priorities at this point — and really, the proposal has only a slim chance of passing. Age 60 is just as arbitrary as age 65, and we have to prioritize in these challenging times. 

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Bloink: Age 65 is a completely arbitrary age at which to begin benefit eligibility. Taxpayers between 60 and 65 are subject to some of the highest health insurance premiums out there — at a time when many can ill afford these expenses; namely, their final working years.

Expanding Medicare would help those Americans who can’t afford private health insurance and allow those with access to continue taking advantage of their employer-sponsored health benefits.

Byrnes: Changing the Medicare eligibility age is also a slippery slope toward government-run “Medicare for All” programs that would greatly diminish the quality and availability of health care in this country.

This would harm our hospitals and medical professionals the most — at a time when they’ve already been stretched to their limits because Medicare reimburses hospitals at lower rates than private insurance. 

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Bloink: Allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices would go a long way to cover the added cost of the expanded Medicare benefits package. These are important benefits, and many lower-income Americans simply don’t have access to the care they need because of the extra cost of purchasing additional insurance coverage.

The Medicare program can and should cover the full range of health benefits Americans need and deserve.

Byrnes: All in all, this proposed expansion would do more harm than good across the board. At some point, Democrats in Congress are going to have to accept that these outrageous proposals are unreasonable and unworkable. Taxpayers have access to Medicare-sponsored hearing, dental and vision coverage.

Socialized medicine doesn’t work, and we should stop considering additional proposals that would, in the end, lower the quality of medical treatment for all Americans.

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