Led by Jayapal, Broad Coalition of 156 House Dems Demands Medicare Expansion in Infrastructure Bill

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, led an ideologically broad coalition of 156 House Democrats on Thursday in demanding the addition of Medicare expansion to a forthcoming infrastructure package, arguing the proposal “would provide immediate and substantial relief” to millions of people across the United States.

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“We are asking for you to prioritize the expansion and improvement of Medicare in the American Families Plan,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter (pdf), referring to the second prong of President Joe Biden’s two-part infrastructure plan.

“Lowering the Medicare age would provide immediate coverage for millions of older adults who are still uninsured or underinsured.”
—Letter

Signed by nearly 70% of the House Democratic caucus—including conservative Reps. Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania and Jared Golden of Maine—the letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris expresses support for lowering the Medicare eligibility age and expanding the popular program’s benefits to include dental, hearing, and vision.

Though Biden campaigned on lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60, the president omitted the proposal from his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, prompting backlash from Jayapal, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and other progressive lawmakers.

“Lowering the Medicare age would provide immediate coverage for millions of older adults who are still uninsured or underinsured,” the House Democrats wrote Thursday, pointing to a 2020 study showing that reducing the eligibility age from 65 to 60 would enable an additional 23 million people to gain insurance through the program.

Dropping the eligibility age to 55, according to the same study, would extend Medicare coverage to more than 40 million people.

“Expanding Medicare to these age groups is critical for addressing inequities in health coverage and access, as communities of color and low-income individuals are disproportionately more likely to be uninsured,” the letter reads.

The House Democrats also urged Biden to fight for a provision empowering Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, another campaign promise that the president has yet to act upon. The lawmakers cited estimates showing that permitting Medicare to negotiate drug prices—which it is barred from doing under current law—would save the federal government $450 billion over the next decade.

“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 letter reads. “We request that the savings achieved by robust Medicare drug-price negotiations be used to make critical expansions and improvements to Medicare, alongside other bold investments in health coverage and affordability.”

While leaving out any expansion of Medicare, Biden’s American Families Plan calls for a permanent extension of billions of dollars in Affordable Care Act subsidies that were approved by Congress earlier this year—a victory for the private insurance industry.

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On Twitter, Jayapal wrote that the Medicare improvements proposed in the new letter would constitute “the largest expansion of healthcare in America in over a decade.”

“It’s unusual to get this much support on a healthcare proposal, but it shows just how important and transformative expanding Medicare would be for Americans across the country,” Jayapal added. “I’m proud to help lead this effort.”

Read the full letter:

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