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Note to Sen. Sanders: Medicare Already Has Dental, Vision and Hearing

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is on a mission from Moscow to socialize the U.S. health care system. Sanders believes every American—every person, actually—has a right to free health care.  Though we should note in passing that a “right to health care” in socialized health care systems has never meant individuals can actually receive health care in a timely manner.
But Sanders has never been deterred by the failures of socialized medicine. It’s the promise, not the practice, that matters to him.
Sanders’ latest effort was to have comprehensive dental, vision and hearing coverage added to the Medicare program in President Biden’s Build Back Better spending-palooza. The estimated cost of Sanders’ Medicare expansion was about $350 billion over 10 years—which was almost certainly a low-ball figure.
It appears, at this writing, that Sanders’ effort has failed. Not because Democrats are worried about how much taxpayer money they’re spending, but because they have to ensure that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) will vote for the bill.
Ironically, most Medicare Advantage (MA) health plans already provide all three coverages at no extra cost to the Medicare system (i.e., taxpayers).
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 26 million people (42 percent of the Medicare population) voluntarily chose a private sector MA plan instead of traditional Medicare in 2021. And Medicare beneficiaries have access to an average of 33 MA plans.
Last September, Kaiser released a separate report on dental, vision and hearing coverage in MA plans.  According to Kaiser: 

  • 94 percent of MA enrollees are in a plan that offers some dental coverage; 

  • 97 percent have access to hearing coverage; and  

  • 99 percent have some vision coverage.

To be sure, the coverage varies from plan to plan, and the plans have limits on what they will pay. In addition, in-network health care providers may charge less, and the MA plan may cover more of the in-network costs. So taking the time to talk to a qualified health insurance professional to help choose the right plan is extremely important.
But Kaiser notes that those with MA plans will, on average, spend significantly less money out of pocket for dental, vision and hearing care.
Of course, MA dental, vision and hearing coverage is much less comprehensive than what Sanders wants. His vision is no premiums or out-of-pocket costs for any health care service for anyone.
But MA coverage is available to seniors now through the private sector, and it doesn’t cost taxpayers any more