Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday said any "serious" reconciliation bill must include Medicare expansion to lower the cost of prescription drugs and cover dental and hearing aids.
Sanders, I-Vt., commented to a small group of reporters at the Capitol.
"The bottom line is, any reconciliation bill must include serious negotiations on the part of Medicare with the pharmaceutical industry to lower the cost of prescription drugs," Sanders said, according to Politico. "And a serious reconciliation bill must include expanding Medicare to cover dental and hearing aids."
Sanders spoke a day after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., shot down talk of expanding Medicare. The moderate senator said the insurance entitlement must be stabilized before anyone tries to expand it.
Medicare's board of trustees warned that the estimated depletion date for the program's hospital insurance trust fund is 2026.
"My big concern right now is the 2026 deadline [for] Medicare insolvency, and if no one's concerned about that, I've got people — that's a lifeline," Manchin said, according to The Hill. "Medicare and Social Security is a lifeline for people back in West Virginia [and] around the country."
Manchin, fellow moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Sanders all must vote in favor of the spending bill for Democrats to be able to pass the measure via reconciliation in a 50-50 Senate.
Sanders told reporters that Americans are most concerned with the cost of prescription drugs.
"They're sick and tired of being ripped off by the pharmaceutical industry," Sanders said.
He said company profits stood in the way: "They think that it's insane that, in some cases, we pay 10 times more for the same drug as people in other countries while last year, the pharmaceutical industry made $50 billion in profit and right now has 1,500 paid lobbyists in Washington to make sure we don't lower the cost of the prescription drugs."
The progressive senator also said it was "insane" that elderly Americans cannot get things they need.
"It is really insane, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we have tens of millions of Americans, older Americans, who have no teeth in their mouth or are unable to digest the food that they're eating," he said. "People who cannot hear and can't communicate with their grandkids because they have no hearing aids. People unable to see well.
"This is American, the richest country in the history of the world."
Democrats were trying to come to an agreement on a social spending bill that began with a progressive $3.5 trillion price tag. Discussions currently were focusing on a bill worth between $1.5 and $2 trillion.
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