By J. Taylor Rushing - 05/30/10 10:14 PM EDT
Senate Democrats, wary of losing an important constituency, are using their week-long Memorial Day recess to reach out to senior citizens.
The Senate adjourned Friday without acting to prevent a 21.3 percent scheduled cut in Medicaid payments to doctors, and lawmakers are still recovering from the divisive debate over the healthcare reform bill, which was unpopular with many seniors.
“Health insurance reform, particularly as it relates to seniors, is one of the most important things for senators to discuss when they are home for recess,” reads a packet distributed to Democratic members. “In order to get the message out ahead of talk of health reform repeal, senators should talk with seniors about the benefits they are going to see immediately and those they will be seeing over the coming months and years.”
The recess packet is a private propaganda tool issued by both parties and both houses of Congress, urging members how to promote the parties’ agendas at events in their states and districts during times when Congress is in recess.
The Senate Republican packet is only a single page, focusing solely on “Jobs — Debt — Terror” and urging GOP senators to spread word that Democratic congressional leaders are focused on “Too many taxes… Too much debt… Too much spending… And too many Washington takeovers.” The GOP packet also zeroes in on healthcare, calling it “Exhibit A” of a “Runaway Washington Government.”
However, the House of Representatives helped the Democrats’ case with seniors on Friday by passing legislation to freeze the scheduled payment cut and give physicians a 2.2 percent pay raise this year and an additional one percent next year. A senior Senate Democratic aide said discussions with members would begin over the recess, and that the so-called “doc fix” legislation should hit the Senate floor once members return.
Democrats should also benefit from the “donut hole” payments that are being mailed to seniors starting in June, intended to prevent a medicine reimbursement gap from hitting seniors’ pocketbooks. The Democrats’ recess packet urges members to remind seniors that $250 rebate checks are on the way to cover medication expenses, and a 50 percent drug discount starts next year. Brochures are also being mailed to explain the benefits.
“Stand with leaders of the AARP and/or other seniors and retirees organizations — people who seniors trust to tell them the truth — at a press conference to discuss the benefits of health reform that will be seen by seniors this year and in the coming years, including the donut hole benefits and the fraud protection mechanisms in the legislation,” the packet suggests for Senate Democrats.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is also joining the promotional effort, publishing a note in federal register on May 25 to announce the benefits, and scheduling a June 1 public meeting that will be accessible online.
Elderly voters have been the most skeptical group on the healthcare reform bill. A Kaiser Foundation poll discovered that the 65-and-older age group was the most sizable age group that believes they will be “worse off” with the bill. Forty-seven percent of seniors gave that answer, compared with only 28 percent of respondents below 65 years old. The same poll found that 56 percent of the 65-plus age group was unfamiliar with the bill and its benefits.
That skepticism worsened late Thursday after Senate Democrats could not come to terms with Republicans on a vote for the “doc fix” bill, prompting American Medical Association president James Rohack to issue a blistering statement accusing the Senate of “turning its back on seniors.”
The solution, according to the recess packet, is to fight skepticism with answers and accessibility.
“Hold an event at a senior center to talk with seniors about all of the benefits they will receive this year and in upcoming years, answering questions from them and dispelling many of the rumors circulated by opponents of reform,” the packet reads.