Former history teacher Sylvia Martin James, a 77-year-old Riverside, Calif., resident, is concerned with what she calls “disturbing trends” in the political landscape. In many ways, she says, “old people, poor people, sick people and people of color, are being painted as ‘the enemy in America.”
James points to the recent elections and the success of such Tea Party candidates as Republican Senator-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky, who once compared Medicare to socialism and Social Security to a Ponzi scheme.
In addition, a few conservative lawmakers in Texas are now looking at dropping the federal-state-run Medicaid program altogether, a move that would result in the state losing substantial federal dollars.
If this happens, it is not known what level of health care Texas would provide to the growing number of low-income people, especially seniors, who depend on Medicaid.
Texas is not the only state with politicians considering this option, which might lead to Draconian measures to limit health care coverage for those with low-incomes.
The current discourse is “frightening,” says James, who lived through the civil rights movement. She wonders if the United States is “moving backwards when it comes to race and compassion for the have-nots of society.”
She asked, “What do they mean when they say, ‘We will take our country back?’ From whom? From people of color? From people without means?”
Election Day saw many older Americans, particularly white seniors, lined up to cast their ballots in favor of Tea Party candidates. A CNN exit poll indicated a strong showing for the Tea Party among older voters, with 47 percent of those 60 and older saying they support the Tea Party, compared to 26 percent of voters 18 to 29 saying they support the movement.”
James said many older Americans lack a basic understanding of Social Security and Medicare, and this leads them to support candidates with policies against their best interests.
“I hear seniors shout, ‘I don’t want anything from the government!’” she says. “They don’t understand their Social Security check and their Medicare coverage comes from federal government. They rail against the new health care bill without understanding it.”
In particular, GOP and Tea Party candidates frightened older voters by falsely saying the new health care reforms would be financed by cuts in Medicare.
President Obama created an opening for Republicans to make that false claim when he stated months ago that health reform would be financed by efficient management of the program. He said, “The savings will come from trimming Medicare expenditures”— a point that only fueled public mistrust.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll, released in October, showed 52 percent of seniors held unfavorable views of the health care reform bill.
Buoyed by their takeover of the House of Representatives, the new crop of Congressional Republicans have signaled that one of their first actions will be to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), or Obamacare, as they derisively refer to it.
Not long after winning back the House, Republican leaders signaled their intentions. The incoming House Republican Whip, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia stated the GOP will use “every tool at our disposal to achieve full repeal of Obamacare.”
Cantor, along with incoming House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), signaled that complete repeal of the PPACA is unlikely, so they expect to block the funding of the bill’s provisions.
Last July, a few months after the PPACA passed, a survey sponsored by the National Council on Aging found that only 17 percent of respondents could answer even half of the 12 questions about key provisions in the long and complicated bill.
For example, only 14 percent of respondents knew that the new law doesn’t include cuts to doctors treating Medicare patients, and only 24 percent were aware that the changes will extend the solvency of the Medicare program, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
“We need to ask more questions and do our homework,” said James, who also believes that seniors are made to feel guilty when they retire and collect Social Security and Medicare.
“We have nothing to apologize for,” she added. “We have worked 40 to 45 years and have paid into the system all this time. When we are ready to stop working, or our health dictates that we cannot work any more, we should not have to justify collecting our benefits!”