First debate: Healthcare and the senior vote

America’s senior citizens are likely to be watching Wednesday’s presidential debate with an eagle-eyed focus on healthcare, according to Daniel Ceccoli, MD, who teaches pre-med and public policy at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

“We’re at sort of a crossroads with how we’re going to deal with an aging population,” Ceccoli said. That, along with the federal government’s enormous financial challenges, is the backdrop to the presidential election, Ceccoli said. “Healthcare has really come to prominence in the last couple weeks. Looking at the population in Florida, there’s a very high percentage of people 65 and older, and this issue is probably prominent in who they’re going to vote for.”

Indeed, President Barack Obama’s campaign has launched an “e-card” effort, with one titled “Get Grandma’s Back.” The e-card reads: “Dear Grandma: I didn’t really lose the outfit you got me last Christmas. But I’m voting for Obama, the guy who won’t raise taxes on your social security benefits by $460 a year. Think we can call it even?”

Nationally, a recent Associated Press-Gfk poll found that 52 percent of seniors support Republican nominee Mitt Romney, compared to 41 percent for Obama.

In 2008, Obama won 45 percent of the senior vote, while John McCain won 53 percent, according to Democracy Corps, the political research firm co-run by Democratic strategist James Carville (who's also a HIMSS 2013 speaker along with former President Bill Clinton).

“The senior vote has been fairly volatile over the past thirty years,” a 2009 Democracy Corps report explains. “While Republican presidential candidates ‘swept’ the senior vote in the 1980s, in 1992, Bill Clinton dramatically reversed that trend and won seniors by a convincing margin of 50 to 39 percent. That proved to be the high point for Democratic candidates as the margin among seniors steadily declined before flipping back into the Republican column in 2004. Obama’s vote among them was essentially stable from 2004.”

Ceccoli said the senior vote is up for grabs and is likely to lean Blue, considering the controversy over Romney running mate Paul Ryan’s Medicare plans.

Seniors may not think the Affordable Care Act is perfect, Ceccoli said. Romney has said he’ll repeal at least parts of the ACA. “I think when the senior population looks at that statement, they are fearful,” Ceccoli said. “Romney has to roll out something that seems credible to win seniors, as to why it’d benefit them to repeal ObamaCare.”

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