Far too many older Vermonters reach out to let me know that times are tough. From the high cost of prescription drugs, healthy food, heat, and housing, to social isolation and loneliness, seniors face many challenges. In my view, no senior in the richest country in the history of the world should ever have to struggle to afford basic human needs. Especially during this current pandemic, when seniors are unable to be with friends and family, I promise to do everything possible to ensure Vermont seniors get the help they need where and when they need it.
Help with Federal Agencies
Bernie knows that many Vermont seniors often need assistance with federal agencies, including with Social Security and Medicare Benefits. As your United States Senator, one of my highest priorities is making sure Vermonters receive all of the federal benefits and help to which they are entitled. I know these programs can often be complicated and difficult to navigate, which is why my staff and I are here to help. If you are having trouble solving a problem with a federal program or agency, my office may be able to assist you.
Events for Seniors
Each December, Senator Sanders holds holiday meals for seniors throughout Vermont. However, for everyone’s safety, this year’s event was held virtually on December 17th. Senator Sanders shared an update from Congress, answered questions, and heard the thoughts and concerns of older Vermonters. Read about the event here, and watch the town hall by clicking the link below. Senator Sanders looks forward to a time when we can all safely gather again.
Resources for Seniors
At a time of massive inequality, Senator Sanders knows it is absolutely unconscionable that some in Washington shower the richest among us with giveaways while cutting programs intended to support our nation’s seniors. With 10,000 Americans turning 65 each day, we should be expanding – not cutting – the programs that protect our seniors such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. From home heating and food assistance to our local Area Agencies on Aging, Senator Sanders is proud to support the many programs throughout Vermont that help Vermont seniors – especially those living on fixed incomes – remain independent.
In the United States, over 7 million seniors live in poverty and nearly 9 million face food insecurity. Nearly 10,000 Vermont seniors do not know where their next meal will come from.
Older Americans Act (OAA) programs currently serve one in three older Vermonters and, in 2018 alone, funded over 1 million meals. These services are critical each and every year in the most rural parts of the state, where seniors may struggle to access transportation and healthy food. This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vermont seniors are facing more isolation and loneliness than ever before. For more information on home delivered meal programs, contact the Senior Helpline at 800-642-5119
Meals on Wheels provides hot meals to Vermonters under age 60 with chronic conditions or disabilities. Meals are provided on an emergency, short-term or long-term basis depending on need. For more information, contact the Meals on Wheels Program at 800-639-1522.
Home Heating Assistance
Senator Sanders knows that the average cost of home heating is unaffordable for millions of low-income households, costing an average of $911 per year nationally. Heating oil and propane cost even more, at over $1,500 every year. LIHEAP is a federally funded program that helps low-income households with their home energy bills by providing payment and/or energy crisis assistance. Vermont’s LIHEAP funds are administered by the Department for Children and Families, and accessed through local Community Action Agencies.
As a result of this horrific health and economic crisis, Vermonters are hurting like they have never hurt before. It is critical that we get this home heating lifeline to Vermonters immediately. In the richest country on Earth, we have a moral responsibility to make sure that no one has to make the unacceptable choice between putting food on the table, paying for their prescription drugs, or heating their homes this winter.
Vermont seniors may be eligible to receive fuel assistance if your household income is equal or less than 185% of the federal poverty level, regardless of resources. It is possible that people who live in your home will not be in your Fuel Assistance household, such as a caretaker, which means their income will not be counted when determining your eligibility. Click here to learn more or to apply.
Area Agencies on Aging
Vermont’s Area Agencies on Aging are great resources for aging Vermonters, helping to connect seniors with home-delivered meals, transportation, employment and support services. Vermont’s AAAs are also the home to the state’s Senior Health Insurance Program counselors, who can help you enroll in Medicare or change your plan.
In addition to Vermont’s AAAs, senior centers throughout Vermont are a great resource for aging Vermonters. From congregate meals to book clubs to art; cooking, Tai Chi and dance classes; as well as blood pressure and foot care clinics, Vermont’s senior centers are an excellent way to help you stay healthy and engaged in your community.
For information on AAAs, senior centers and other important resources near you, call the Vermont Senior HELPLINE toll-free at 800-642-5119
Senator Sanders believes every American should have access to safe, effective, and affordable prescription medications.
Senator Sanders is fighting to lower costs for consumers by bringing greater transparency and competition to the health care system. In 2014, he and the late Representative Elijah Cummings launched an investigation into 14 pharmaceutical companies after reports of skyrocketing prices for some generic drugs. As a result of that investigation, the lawmakers introduced S. 1364, the Medicaid Generic Drug Price Fairness Act, which became law at the end of 2015. This law requires generic drug companies to provide rebates to the Medicaid program if drug prices rise faster than the rate of inflation. The provision is estimated to save taxpayers $1 billion over ten years.
In 2019, Senator Sanders and Representative Cummings re-opened the investigation when a civil lawsuit filed against 20 generic drug companies by a coalition of 44 state attorneys general uncovered evidence that certain companies had coordinated to obstruct the Congressmen’s investigation in 2014. Senator Sanders and Representative Cummings also wrote to the U.S. Department of Justice, urging the agency to open a federal investigation into the companies’ potentially unlawful behavior and to hold them accountable to the maximum extent possible if appropriate. As of August 2020, the Department of Justice has filed charges against seven drug companies and four executives as part of an ongoing criminal antitrust investigation into generic drug price-fixing.
Senator Sanders also introduced a sweeping plan to lower drug prices in the 116th Congress with Reps. Cummings and Khanna as well as more than two dozen colleagues in the House and Senate. The plan includes three bills:
- S.97, the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act, which would allow patients, pharmacists and wholesalers to import safe, affordable medicine from Canada and other major countries, and would save taxpayers $6.8 billion over 10 years according to the Congressional Budget Office.
- S.99, the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act, which would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D. The U.S. government could save close to $360 billion over a decade if Medicare negotiated the same prices for drugs as people in Canada pay, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
- S.102, the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act, which would peg the price of prescription drugs in the United States to the median price in five major countries (Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Japan). This compulsory licensing legislation would lower the price of most branded drugs by 50 percent, according to an estimate by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
“It is unacceptable that Americans pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.”
– Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Sen. Sanders has worked to reduce the pharmaceutical industry’s influence over the drug approval process. In 2012, he was the only senator to vote against the Food and Drug Administration user fee bill because it did not do enough to address high prescription drug prices and was too generous to the pharmaceutical industry. In 2016, he opposed the 21st Century Cures Act because the bill cut Medicare and Medicaid to pay for corporate giveaways to the pharmaceutical industry.
Senator Sanders has also introduced S.1584 (116th Congress), the Opioid Crisis Accountability and Results Act, which would require drug companies that manufacture opioids to reimburse the country for the negative economic impact of their products; S.495 (115th Congress), the Medical Innovation Prize Fund Act, which would establish a multi-billion-dollar fund to reward drug innovation with cash prizes instead of monopoly rights; and S.1681 (115th Congress), a bill to require drugs that are developed with federally funded research to be sold at reasonable prices.
In 1999, Sen. Sanders was the first member of Congress to take his constituents across the Canadian border to buy their prescription drugs at a fraction of the price they were forced to pay in the United States. He believes importing FDA-approved prescription drugs from Canada and other countries is a safe way to improve competition in the marketplace and reduce the price of prescription drugs, and led another trip to Canada in 2019.
Medicare for All
Medicare is the most popular health care program in America. Fifty-five years ago, the United States took an important step towards universal health care by passing the Medicare program into law. Guaranteeing comprehensive health benefits for Americans over 65 has proven to be enormously successful and popular. Now is the time to improve and expand Medicare for all.
Right now, the United States is the only major nation in the world that does not provide health care for every man, woman and child as a right. We spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other major country, yet our health outcomes in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality and disease prevention are not nearly as good. Last year, one out of four Americans skipped needed medical care because they could not afford it. It is simply unacceptable that thousands of people die each year because they do not have health insurance and do not get to a doctor on time.
A single-payer system would provide comprehensive, cost-effective health care for every person in America. People would no longer have to choose between a myriad of complicated private insurance plans, which may not cover their needs, or be forced on to a plan that is prohibitively expensive because of the lack of alternatives. The U.S. would no longer pay by far the highest prescription drug costs in the world because the government would be able to negotiate drug prices. Businesses would no longer have to administer health insurance benefits and employees would not have to worry about losing their insurance if they lose their job. The 34 million Americans who still do not have coverage, and the 41 million who are underinsured, would no longer have to worry that an unforeseen illness or accident would mean bankruptcy.
The economic reality is that we currently spend nearly 18 percent of our GDP on health care – over $10,000 per person. If we retain the status quo, we will spend an estimated nearly $60 trillion over the next decade on health care. Meanwhile, drug companies and insurance companies make hundreds of billions of dollars in profits each year. That is unaffordable, unsustainable and unacceptable.
This is why I introduced the Medicare for All Act. Under this legislation, every resident of the U.S. will receive health insurance through an expanded Medicare program with improved and comprehensive benefits, including dental, hearing and vision care. Furthermore, there would be no more insurance premiums, deductibles or co-payments.
Let me be absolutely clear, the most cost-effective and popular solution to this health care crisis is to guarantee health care as a right through a Medicare-for-all, single-payer health care system. In fact, studies have found that our federal government could save up to $500 billion per year on administrative costs by moving to Medicare for All. Please read my “Financing Medicare for All” proposal.
As we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, in times of crisis, the last thing people should have to worry about is whether they will be able to afford medical care. Medicare for All would provide peace of mind to every American.
Social Security is one of the most successful government programs in the history of this great country. For more than 85 years, Social Security has succeeded in keeping millions of seniors, widows and people with disabilities out of poverty. Before Social Security, about half of America’s seniors lived in poverty. Today, fewer than 10 percent live below the poverty line, and more than 69 million Americans receive Social Security benefits.
In order to protect and expand these essential benefits, Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced the Expand Social Security Act. The legislation would increase benefits by about $1,342 a year for seniors now making less than $16,000 annually and increase cost-of-living adjustments by more accurately measuring the spending patterns of seniors. The bill would also ensure that Social Security could pay every benefit owed to every eligible American for the next 52 years, by asking the wealthiest Americans to contribute their fair share. In addition, Sen. Sanders founded and currently chairs the Expand Social Security Caucus in the Senate to ensure that your benefits are protected and strengthened.
We must also keep our promise to the working people of this country and protect pensions. After a lifetime of hard work, including working overtime and giving up weekends, to ensure a secure retirement, workers and their families should be able to depend on their pension. That is why the Senator is an original cosponsor of the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act, also known as the Butch Lewis Act, which would offer federal loans to multiemployer pension plans that are in danger of becoming bankrupt. The Senator has also introduced the CEO and Worker Pension Fairness Act to help troubled multiemployer pension plans continue to provide pension benefits to workers and retirees. This bill would eliminate special CEO pension plans, raising around $15 billion over the next 10 years to strengthen the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) and our multiemployer pension system. If Congress can bailout Wall Street and foreign banks across the world, we can certainly protect the pensions of American workers.