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Medicare Advocates Call for Keeping Program as It Is, Cite Voter Concerns About Costs

Mary Caffrey
Advocates for keeping Medicare as it is were joined by a well-known pollster to discuss that voters are concerned about out-of-pocket costs, including what they pay for prescription drugs, as the 2018 midterm elections approach.
By large margins, seniors who use Medicare will go to the polls in November with healthcare on their minds, including drug costs. This is especially true among women, according to experts.

Medicare beneficiaries want to keep the program as it is, according to experts convened by the Center for Medicare Advocacy, who briefed reporters Tuesday on what voters are thinking about as they go into the midterm elections. The experts said the election results could shape the future of the healthcare program that serves nearly 60 million Americans, including those over age 65 and people with disabilities.

“We know healthcare matters to voters,” said Judith Stein, executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “We know Medicare is a nationally treasured program. But we fear current efforts to privatize Medicare, and longer-term plans to cut and change the program entirely, are flying way below the radar. Our goal is to remind media, voters, and candidates that Medicare matters—to voters of all persuasions throughout the country. We are launching a SaveMedicareNow campaign, to help raise the future of Medicare as a key concern for midterm candidates and voters.”

The campaign will have a website and will be reaching out to candidates to gauge their position on issues related to the future of the program, which was created in 1965. Medicare has been credited with raising the life expectancy of a person 65 years of age from 79.3 years in 1965 to 83.6 years in 2007, and cutting the poverty rate by more than half, from 33% to 14%. Medicare enrollment has climbed steadily from 44 million in 2009 and could reach 80 million by 2030 as the population ages, according to MedPAC. Along with rising numbers, Medicare will serve a rising share of the population, according to Marilyn Moon, an institute fellow at the American Institutes for Research. At present, Medicare serves 20% of the population.

Polling Data Shows Voter Interest
For more than 2 years, polls including the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll have shown that voters are concerned about rising healthcare costs and the cost of prescription drugs in particular. But Tuesday’s briefing included a presentation by well-known Democratic pollster Celinda Lake that showed just how much these issues are on the minds of older voters, particularly women.

Lake said:
  • Democrats enjoy a generic ballot advantage of 7.8 points in Congressional races as of September 23, 2018, which, in part, stems from women over age 55 turning more strongly toward the party than they have in in the past.
  • 80% of all voters over 65 years of age and 77% of all women over age 55 are “very convinced” of the need to lower prescription drug prices by allowing Medicare to negotiate prices, similar to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Overall, 93% of voters support this idea.
  • 73% of all voters over 65 years of age and 73% of all women over age 55 are “very convinced” of the need to ensure that prescription drugs “developed with taxpayers dollars are affordable for every American.” Overall, 92% of voters support this idea.
  • When asked to rank a list of healthcare issues in order of importance, 28% of adults selected the cost of health insurance premiums, 26% listed out-of-pocket costs, 15% listed hospital care, and 12% listed prescription drugs. Among those on Medicare, 24% listed out of pocket costs, 18% listed prescription drugs, and 15% listed premiums (Ipsos poll, 1700 adults).
  • In the survey of 1700 adults, when asked how worried they were about others not being able to afford prescription drugs, 88% of those age 50 to 64 said they were concerned, and 90% of those age 65 and older said they were concerned. Overall, 87% of Americans across age groups are concerned (Ipsos poll 1700 adults).

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