Seniors and the Election: Concerns About Social Security, Medicare, and Drug Pricing

The American Society on Aging (ASA) hosted its annual Panel of Pundits on September 8. Due to the pandemic, it was broadcasted on a free-webinar and over 200 people attended. The topic of conversation was centered around what this election could mean for senior Americans. 

Five panelists spoke, each an expert on the issues of aging and politics in America. Here are what they noted as the hot topics in this 2020 presidential election and the things senior Americans need to know about in order to vote with a clear understanding of their place in it all. 

Meet the experts

The five panelists brought a range of political perspectives and decades of experience in the aging and political worlds:

Peter Kaldes, president and CEO of ASA and a former Obama economic adviser

Richard Browdie of Browdie Consulting, formerly president and CEO of Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging and Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Aging

Joel White, founder and president of Horizon Government Affairs and former Republican staff director of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee

Jay Newton-Small, a journalist for Time and Bloomberg News and co-founder and CEO of the MemoryWell digital platform to improve the care of elders

John Zogby, founder and senior partner of the John Zogby Strategies polling firm

The big topics

Here’s where they came down on four key topics: Social Security, Medicare, and telehealth, prescription drug prices, and their views on the top aging-related policy change they’d like to see, whoever is elected president:

Social Security

Panelists agreed that the question of Medicare’s solvency seemed to be a serious issue, but would only come into effect in 2021, after the election. The first round of questioning was based on whether President Trump put Social Security back on the political table when he suspended its payroll tax to provide stimulus checks to the American public. Then the panel was asked, “Shouldn’t we start thinking seriously about the exhaustion of the Social Security Trust Fund.

Joel White said, “We’ve got a $3.3 trillion deficit staring us in the face according to CBO [Congressional Budget Office], and the last time I heard someone on the Hill talk about trust fund balances and deficits and stuff like that, I think I was still on the Hill [from 2004-2007]. I don’t think the Social Security issue is back on the political table this year. I think it’s back on the table next year, when we have a budget, whether Biden is elected or Trump is re-elected.” Others seemed to agree with this assessment. 

“The Republican National Convention for the first time, I think in history, did not have a platform this year. So, it’s hard to know for sure what President Trump’s second-term agenda, if he were to be re-elected, would be. But he’s certainly spoken a lot about tackling deficits and entitlements like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and appeasing more of the fiscal conservatives that he’s got. But I do think, similarly, Joe Biden, if he were elected, would also tackle those issues,” Newton-Small added.

Medicare

When asked, “How will Medicare change under the next president and why?” The panelists named additions to Medicare that they would like to see such as increasing the salaries of our caregivers and the direct care workforce and increasing the Medicare coverage on more at-home care costs.

All panelists praised the increased use of telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic, thanks to temporary Covid-19 rules, and hoped that many of the new policies enabling its greater use would remain permanent after the pandemic.

Telehealth

However, some panelists voiced concerns about access to telehealth caused by the “digital divide” that some older adults are facing.

Joel White: “I think that what we see in access is really that Black and brown communities are significantly disadvantaged here, largely because of access to broadband… And so, I think we need to … make telehealth available across the country: rural, suburban and urban.”

Peter Kaldes: “I think telehealth is here to stay. I would echo the sentiment that the guidelines need to be made permanent.”

Jay Newton-Small: “I think that telehealth is the genie that is not going to be put back in the bottle now that people have realized how convenient it is.”

John Zogby: “It’s here to stay and to expand as well.”

What do you think? 

Does the future of medicine depend on access to telehealth or in-person medical care? Have you had good or bad experiences with telehealth? We would love to hear from you on Facebook.

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Prescription Drug Prices

When asked about the potential of a bipartisan agreement on a new and improved prescription drug price bill, the experts agreed that “there’s a potential for that if there’s enough bipartisan agreement. But I don’t think before the election, unless it somehow miraculously gets piggybacked onto a COVID bill,” as Newton-Small said. 

What SHOULD change?

One of the more interesting questions during the webinar was posed by an audience member who asked what the panelists thought the top aging-related policy change should be, whoever’s elected president. The responses:

  • White and Zogby called for expanded intergenerational mentoring programs.
  • Browdie wanted to see the age for Medicare eligibility lowered from 65 to 60, which Biden has proposed.
  • Kaldes hoped for greater enforcement of age discrimination employment laws.
  • Newton-Small favored increased reimbursement for home health care under Medicare.

None of the panelists were willing to give a definite answer as to who they thought would win the Presidential election. Time, as the experts like to say, will tell.

Tell us what you think!

We would love your thoughts. How do you see the outcome of the Presidential election affecting you and/or your loved one’s Medicare, Social Security, or medical bills? Do you agree or disagree with the experts? Let us know on Facebook

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