If the health care reform bill fails to make it to President Obama's desk, at least we will know whom to hold accountable:The Democrats' senior problemBy VICTORIA MCGRANE & CHRIS FRATES | 8/12/09 4:35 AM EDT
Democrats have a senior citizen problem.
Frustrated older Americans are packing the town halls on health care. They are incredibly passionate about their Medicare benefits. Polls show senior citizens largely disapprove of health care reform ideas so far.
And of course, they vote — in larger numbers than any other demographic.
But so far, Democrats have focused much of their health care sales pitch on middle-class Americans and the uninsured — a slight that has been noticed by senior citizens, who hold great influence with members of Congress.
At his Tuesday town hall event in New Hampshire, President Barack Obama made a point to reach out to seniors, noting the low support in polls for his health care proposals.
“We are not talking about cutting Medicare benefits,” Obama said, trying to assuage the audience.
But Obama is talking about finding hundreds of billions in savings from Medicare — cuts supporters say will trim fat from the program — including slashing $156 billion in subsidies to Medicare Advantage, a privately administered Medicare program.
“Seniors are one of the most attentive and engaged constituencies, especially on health care issues, and we’ve seen that in the Medicare Advantage programs,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans.
A July 31 Gallup Poll found that just 20 percent of Americans aged 65 and older believe health care reform would improve their own situation, noticeably lower than the 27 percent of 18- to 49-year olds and 26 percent of 50-to-64-year-olds who say the same.
The senior citizen problem could pose a serious problem for the 2010 election cycle.
Older Americans turn out in much higher numbers than other age groups during midterm elections. In 2006, the 55-and-older age group still had the highest voting rate of any age group, at 63 percent, even though younger voters turned out in record numbers for a midterm, according to census data. Half of all votes cast in the 2006 midterms were from voters age 50 or older, according to AARP. And one out of four were AARP members.