Turn on any news program today and you’ll hear pundits on both the right and the left emphasizing the importance of capturing the votes of America’s “emerging electorate” – key voting groups that are becoming increasingly active in our nation’s elections.
These groups of new voters include minorities, millennials (Americans aged 18-33) and women. Historically, these populations have had lower turn out numbers at exit polls, but today they are organizing and playing a larger role in American politics.
While there is no denying that these populations are becoming more engaged in the political process, politicians would be unwise to lose sight of another electorate that’s long been important, politically aware and active: senior citizens.
Take a look at the last election cycle. According to Pew Research Center, 71.9 percent of Americans 65 and older turned out to the polls in 2012 compared with just 41.2 percent of young voters. Likewise, the turnout rate among Hispanic Americans in 2012 was 48 percent and the African American turnout was 66.2 percent.
The senior voting group is not just powerful and active, however – it is also growing rapidly. Indeed, an estimated 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 and join this voting group. Every day.
Turning 65 is important in another, and closely related, respect as well – it is the age of Medicare eligibility. Enrollment in Medicare triggers a heightened focus on – and concern about – Medicare policy issues. As a result, seniors are very attuned to changes that could undermine the healthcare services and providers upon which they depend.
Take home healthcare, for example. Using discretionary authority granted by the Affordable Care Act, the Administration cut Medicare home health funding by an unprecedented 14 percent, beginning on January 1. In announcing this cut, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) admitted that “approximately 40 percent” of all home healthcare providers in America will be operating at a loss by the end of 2017 as a result of this cut. And that means that thousands of providers may be forced to close their doors if this cut stands uncorrected – an outcome that Avalere Health estimates could directly impact 1.3 million American seniors and cost the jobs of 465,000 home healthcare professionals.
As seniors complete their ballots, this is the type of issue that many are thinking about.
Fortunately, many leading lawmakers understand and are responding to this concern. For example, Senator Mitch McConnell stood with representatives of Kentucky’s home health community this month and pledged his support for ending cuts like those to home health. If elected Senate Majority Leader, he promised to bring legislation that would end the Medicare home health cut to the floor of the U.S. Senate.
Likewise, 38 lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives have signed on to legislation that would repeal the Medicare home health cut and replace it with sustainable Medicare payment reforms.
These and many other lawmakers recognize that putting seniors at risk is a bad idea, whether during an election year or otherwise.
Pundits will soon inform us of the extent to which members of the “emerging electorate” vote on November 4. But there’s one thing we already know – seniors will.
Eric Berger is the CEO of the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare, a coalition of the nation’s leading innovators of home healthcare dedicated to improving the integrity, quality, and efficiency of home healthcare.