Today, if you are a senior citizen on Social Security and Medicare, you have no dental, hearing or vision coverage unless you purchase it yourself.
Imagine the quality of life (or lack thereof) of kupuna without teeth, who only hear half the words coming from their grandchildren’s mouth and are homebound because their vision is so poor.
This could all change in the next few months IF the current majority of Democrats in Congress stick together and vote “yes” in support of President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion (over 10 years) “Build Back Better Agenda.”
Unfortunately, every single Republican in Congress has indicated they will be voting no.
Three of our four Hawai‘i members of Congress, Rep. Kaialiʻi “Kai” Kahele, Sen. Mazie Hirono and Sen. Brian Schatz, have expressed strong support for this once-in-a-generation legislative initiative.
Only Rep. Ed Case has expressed hesitancy. While publicly expressing support, he appears to be working at cross purposes — attempting to undermine rather than strengthen the legislation.
According to multiple media reports, in addition to the opposition coming from Republicans, a small group of conservative Democrats including Case are attempting to delay and impede the efforts of Biden and the majority Democrats who are in strong support.
Case’s group is pushing for the measure to be “de-linked” from a separate, physical-infrastructure bill which is also poised to pass into law. Biden and the majority leadership in Congress oppose the de-linking, as that action is widely seen as a maneuver that ultimately weakens the prospect of passing the larger, $3.5-trillion package.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the only thing standing between 61 million Medicare recipients getting their teeth fixed, a better pair of glasses and finally that hearing aid they have been waiting so long for, are 12 Democrats, including Case, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and nine others in the House of Representatives.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Thirty-seven million people, or nearly two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries, have no dental coverage. Not coincidently, half of all beneficiaries reported they had not been to a dentist in the past year, and 15 percent said they had no teeth at all.”
The National Institute for Health estimates “about one-third of those between 65 and 74 have hearing loss, as do nearly half of those older than 75. On average, hearing aids cost between $1,000 and $5,000.”
In addition to the long-overdue expansion of Medicare, the Biden “Build Back Better Agenda” includes provisions that will lower costs for families with young children and will reduce taxes for 25 million low-to-moderate wage workers. The plan also invests heavily in fighting climate change, expanding opportunities in education and supporting the construction of millions of affordable homes.
“The Build Back Better Agenda will create jobs, cut taxes and lower costs for working families — all paid for by making the tax code fairer and making the wealthiest and large corporations pay their fair share,” according to a White House fact sheet.
This could all happen in just a few weeks’ time, or it could take months and be dramatically reduced in size and scope. Or it could fail completely.
If passage of the Build Back Better Agenda is important to you, I encourage you to call every member of the Hawai‘i congressional delegation today and let them know: Ed Case, 808-650-6688; Kahele, 808-746-6220; Hirono, 808-522-8970; Schatz, 808-523-2061.
Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.