WASHINGTON – A 12-page report released Tuesday by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) found that about 5 million senior citizens are threatened by hunger in the United States.
"It is estimated that 5 million seniors face the threat of hunger, 3 million seniors are at risk of hunger, and 1 million seniors go hungry because they cannot afford to buy food," Sanders said Tuesday during a Senate hearing, summing up the findings.
According to the report, the average cost of a meal brought to a senior's home is just over $5. By contrast, the average cost of spending a day in the hospital is more than $1,850, while the average yearly cost of care at a nursing home is over $77,700.
The tone of the Sanders hearing -- called the "Senior Hunger and the Older Americans Act" and held by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Primary Health & Aging, which Sanders chairs -- provided a stark contrast to the political debate on Capitol Hill about cutting programs for the elderly like Social Security and Medicare.
"Investing in senior nutrition and in well-designed senior programs in general saves money for the government because when we do that we keep people out of emergency rooms, nursing homes and the hospital," Sanders said. "The result is substantial savings for government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a member of the subcommittee, derided as Washington double-speak the notion that spending more money could ultimately result in savings.
The Vermont independent retorted that improving nutrition and food safety for seniors could save money in the long run by making them healthier and therefore less in need of emergency care, which constitutes a large share of U.S. health care costs.
House Republicans are pushing cuts to Medicare in ongoing negotiations with the White House about increasing the debt limit. Democratic leaders have said they will not accept cuts to the roughly 46 million elderly beneficiaries of the program, but are willing to deal on eliminating the program's waste, fraud and curb payments to drug companies.