What Does Election Mean for
Seniors: Action, Maybe Not What We Want
By Tucker Sutherland, editor
Nov. 6, 02 - The Republican capture of government
control probably means we will see action on key senior issues but the
solutions passed will have a strong private enterprise influence. I
say "probably" because the senior vote seems to have lost its
influence in Washington.
The two most important government programs
for senior citizens are Social Security and Medicare, and both are
likely to see major changes.
Security Reform was a hot issue in the early days of the Bush
Administration and the President appointed a Commission on Social
Security Reform. In December of last year the presented their
recommendations, which followed the "privatization" theme used the in
the Bush campaign - allowing people to invest Social Security funds in
private investment accounts.
this part of their recommendation that received most of the headlines
but the plan also included a recommendation to reduce Social Security
benefits in future years - by as much as 33 percent.
The final report actually presented
various options but all included some type of private investment and
reductions in benefits. Republicans will almost certainly pass
legislation that will embody these two concepts.
A Gallup poll in October of this year
showed support for investing Social Security funds in private stocks
and bonds was declining. The idea, however, was still favored by a
majority of Americans under 65. A slight majority of those over 65
were against this proposal.
Medicare is more problem-ridden than
Social Security, but it all bowls down to money. The program is just
under-funded. The key issues are these:
Medical Providers Want Better Pay -
Doctors, hospitals and HMO's are, of course, critical in providing
Medicare users with the care they need. Increasingly, however, they
are refusing to serve those on Medicare, because they do not think
they are adequately compensated by the program.
The Republicans are committed to
preserving the Bush tax cuts and are not likely to make more money
available. It is going to take innovation - or new found money -
to keep the medical options available to Medicare users from
continuing to shrink.
Prescription Drugs - Medicare does not pay
for prescription drugs. Many on Medicare are not taking the medicine
prescribed, because they do not have the money to buy them. There have
been two drives underway to help this situation: 1. add prescription
drug coverage to Medicare, and, 2. force drug companies to make more
generic (less costly) drugs available.
Bush promised a prescription drug plan in
his campaign but most Republican plans have involved heavier reliance
on the private drug and insurance companies.
In September the Bush Administration
activated their Medicare-Endorsed Prescription Drug Card Assistance
program, which they hope will reduce the cost of drugs to senior
citizens by as much as 25 percent. The idea is that companies will
create a discount card that must be endorsed by the Centers for
Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). They will only be endorsed if they
include rebates or discounts from drug manufacturers on brand name
and/or generic drugs. Medicare users will then choose the plan in
which they want to enroll. This could be of some help but doesn't
really begin to solve the problem.
This has been a hot-button issue with
AARP. They backed losing Democrat efforts in the Senate to pass
Medicare drug bills. The Democrats pushed a compromise bill to include
prescription drugs in Medicare for those least able to pay.
Republicans argued for a plan that called for the government to
subsidize private insurance plans. The Democrats in the Senate did win
approval for a plan to make generic drugs more available and to allow
the import of lower priced drugs from Canada.
We can now expect the Republicans to move
forward with legislation that will include some type of private drug
plan insurance that is subsidized by the government.
Seniors have no doubt lost a lot of political clout. AARP, long
considered a political powerhouse because of their millions of senior
members, who are faithful voters, was humiliated by their failure to
pass a drug bill. All polls leading up to the election showed senior
citizens favoring Democratic plans on the issues of Social Security
and Medicare. Yet, the Republicans won the elections decisively.
is certainly the appearance that the senior citizens are not the
political block vote that many had feared in the past. So, in general,
senior issues may no longer receive the attention that have received
on capitol hill.