The Senate Democrats’ proposal for a $3.5 trillion spending plan includes expanding Medicare to provide dental, vision, and hearing benefits. The proposal is now being negotiated in Congress.
Currently Medicare does not offer much in the way of dental, vision, and hearing benefits. Medicare Part A will cover certain emergency or necessary procedures that are received in the hospital. For example, if you are hospitalized after an accident and require jaw reconstruction, Medicare Part A will pay for the dental work required as part of that procedure. On the other hand, Medicare Part A does not pay for routine dental work.
Medicare Part B offers very limited coverage of some vision and hearing services. For example, while Medicare Part B won’t cover routine eye exams, it does cover yearly glaucoma screenings for people at high risk and cataract surgery, among a few other limited exceptions. Part B will also cover some diagnostic hearing and balance exams if they are ordered by a doctor, but it will not cover routine hearing exams or hearing aids. There is no coverage at all for routine dental work.
Many people choose Medicare Advantage plans, which are run by private insurers, instead of traditional Medicare because it is possible to get some dental, vision, and hearing benefits in most plans. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 79 percent of people in Medicare Advantage plans have vision coverage, 74 percent have dental coverage, and 72 percent have hearing aid coverage. Television ads asserting that seniors are “entitled” to dental, vision, and hearing benefits are referring to the right to choose a Medicare Advantage plan instead of traditional Medicare.
Under the Democrats’ proposal, Medicare beneficiaries would be able to receive dental, vision, and health benefits through traditional Medicare, making it more competitive with Medicare Advantage. The exact details of the proposal are unknown, but in a 2019 bill that passed the House, Medicare beneficiaries would have paid 20 percent of the cost for basic dental coverage and routine eye and hearing exams. Democrats want to pass the spending bill through the reconciliation process, which requires all 50 Democrats to agree to the plan. Negotiations are currently underway to craft a bill that has the support of all the Democratic senators.
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