The 116th Congress, which convened on January 3rd, is historic for many reasons. First, the first and only female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has resumed her role as Speaker. Second, some of the newly-elected members include the first ever Native American Congresswomen, Muslim Congresswomen, and the youngest Congresswoman in history. But it’s also historic because Representatives are beginning conversations on Medicare and Social Security expansion, something previous Congresses have neglected to do.
Who supports Medicare and Social Security expansion?
On the first day of the new Congress, House Democrats announced they would hold hearings on Medicare and Social Security expansion. This will be the first time the House has held hearings on Social Security in almost half a century, and the first ever to hold hearings on expanding Medicare.
Leading up to the midterm elections, new polls revealed that two-thirds of voters said they would support candidates who promoted expanding Social Security, and 64 percent said they would support candidates in favor of expanding Medicare.
Virtually all of the newly-elected Congressmembers ran on platforms of Medicare and Social Security expansion.
Social Security expansion
The United States is the wealthiest country in the world, and has never been wealthier than it is today, yet the U.S. spends far less on the economic security of its seniors than other developed countries.
For example, the United States spends 4.8 percent of its GDP (gross domestic product) on elderly, survivors, and disability programs. In contrast, Spain spends nearly double that at 9.4 percent, and Austria spends 11.9 percent.
The House is currently working on proposals on how to financially extend Social Security benefits. Here are two possibilities they could explore:
- Increase immigration. Because immigrants are often much younger when they move to the United States, they would be paying into and supporting the system for years before they begin collecting benefits.
- Estate tax reform. When an individual dies, they can leave up to $5.6 million to their heirs and pay no federal taxes on the inheritance, and married couples can leave up to $11 million. Taxing these inheritances (which 99.8 percent of Americans do not benefit from) could support Social Security for decades without raising payroll taxes.
These hearings will reveal just how affordable it is to expand these necessary programs.
Expanding Social Security is pointless without also addressing another threat American seniors face: rising healthcare costs.
It’s no secret that many newly-elected House Representatives wish to pass a Medicare for All bill, but would that expansion benefit current Medicare enrollees? Donald Trump claims that it would take away from seniors’ current health benefits, but the reality is that current Medicare enrollees may benefit from an expansion.
Medicare for All could benefit current Medicare enrollees by:
- Reducing prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies
- Eliminating copays, deductibles, and premiums
- Preserving large portions of Social Security checks that are dedicated to healthcare costs
- Extending Medicare coverage to include benefits like dental, hearing, and vision care
Medicare for All would also save the government trillions of dollars. The United States currently spends around double what other industrialized countries spend on healthcare, yet the U.S. often has worse health outcomes.
These hearings will show just how affordable and necessary expanding Medicare and Social Security is, and bring the United States one step closer to economic security for American seniors.
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