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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Greedy Geezers?"

Why did seniors turn against Democrats in the midterm elections?:

Greedy Geezers?, by James Surowiecki: ...In the 2006 midterm election, seniors split their vote evenly between House Democrats and Republicans. This time, they went for Republicans by a twenty-one-point margin. ...
Why were seniors so furious with the Democrats? ... The real sticking point was health-care reform, which the elderly didn’t like from the start. ...
Misinformation about “death panels” and so on had something to do with seniors’ hostility. But the real reason is that it feels to them as if health-care reform will come at their expense, since ... between now and 2019 total Medicare outlays will be half a trillion dollars less than previously projected. Never mind that this number includes cost savings from more efficient care, or that the bill has a host of provisions that benefit seniors... The idea that the government might try to restrain Medicare spending was enough to turn seniors against the bill.
There’s a colossal irony here: the very people who currently enjoy the benefits of a subsidized, government-run insurance system are intent on keeping others from getting the same treatment. In part, this is because seniors think of Medicare as ... something that they have a right to because they paid for it, via Medicare taxes—and decry the new bill as a giveaway. This is a myth: seniors today get far more out of Medicare than they ever put in, which means that their medical care is paid for by current taxpayers... But the subsidies that seniors get aren’t fundamentally different from the ones that the Affordable Care Act will offer some thirty million Americans who don’t have insurance. Opposing the new law while reaping the benefits of Medicare is essentially saying, “I’ve got mine—good luck getting yours.”
Current sentiment among seniors seems like a classic example of an effect that the economist Benjamin Friedman identified in his magisterial book “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth”: in hard times voters get more selfish. Historically,... times of stagnation have been times of reaction, with voters bent on protecting their own interests, hostile to outsiders, and less interested in social welfare. In boom times, by contrast, societies typically become more open, more inclusive, and more generous...
To be sure, the Obama Administration didn’t pitch health-care reform as well as it might have: its emphasis on the way the bill would “bend the cost curve” was heard by seniors as “slash Medicare.” But the Democrats’ loss of support among the elderly was more a matter of economic fundamentals than of political framing. If the economy were growing briskly, it’s unlikely that the health-care bill would have become so politically toxic. And, with Republicans now looking to roll back parts of the bill, what happens to health care in the long term may depend a lot on what happens to the economy in the short term.

    Posted by on Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 12:36 AM in Economics, Health Care, Politics | Permalink  Comments (50)


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