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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

GOP Losing Support Over Prescription Drug Mess

The Democrats are making gains among senior citizens as a result of confusion and rising discontent over the new prescription drug rules, reports Robin Toner in “Drug Plan’s Start May Imperil G.O.P.’s Grip on Older Voters” in The New York Times.
Discontent over prescription drug polices could have a decisive effect in races in which senior voters are critical, such as the U.S. Senate contest in Pennsylvania. In House races, Toner says “Among the fewer than three dozen House districts considered competitive, the over-60 vote will be critical in states like Florida and New Mexico.”
As Ruy Teixeira explained in his December 21 piece “Seniors, the Prescription Drug Benefit and the 2006 Election,” voters age 60 and older have become highly critical of the job performance of both the President and congress — and these voters turn out at even higher rates in midterm elections.
Toner quotes GOP pollster Glen Bolger’s observation that confusion over the drug benefit has “taken the key swing vote that’s been trending the Republicans’ way and put it at risk for the next election.”
A range of problems are driving senior concerns about the new plan, according to Toner:

…including low-income people who fell between the cracks in the transition; the difficulties reported by many pharmacists in determining eligibility; and the general struggle of millions of retirees faced with a choice among 40 or more private drug plans, with different rules, lists of covered drugs and premiums.”

Toner cites a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll, indicating that “retirees were almost twice as likely to say they viewed the benefit unfavorably (45 percent) as favorably (23 percent)” and a recent New York Times/CBS News Poll showing that “most did not expect the law to lower drug costs over the next few years.” In addition, a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll reveals that only 20 percent of seniors believe the new plan is working.
Smart Dems have taken a common sense approach to addressing the issue. Toner quotes Florida State Senator Ron Klein, who is running for congress against Rep. Clay Shaw:

“These Medicare prescription drug costs, on top of the other issues, are weighing pretty heavily on people with fixed incomes…Let’s start thinking about the consumer side, instead of figuring out how to prop up the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.”

Toner notes that Democrats are pushing reforms to improve the benefit, including extending the sign-up deadline, empowering Medicare to negotiate prices directly with drug companies and more vigorously regulating private drug plans. Dems will publicize their reforms at a series of nearly 100 forums that will be held across the U.S. in the coming months