SENIOR CITIZENS, INTEREST GROUPS AND POLITICAL PARTIES



by



LIYA LIN

JOHANNA MOISE

HING-KING LAM

JOHN MONTERO



The United States Constitution guarantees Americans numerous liberties and rights. Our government believes in Democracy. A system of government in which the people rule, either directly or indirectly. Democratic ideals is a form of government under the Constitution, which guarantees civil liberties and civil rights to all citizens. Ensuring citizens with civil liberties are defined as freedom guaranteed to individuals such as freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Civil Rights are powers or privileges that government may not arbitrarily deny to individuals. In our government, citizens determine the extent of government activity through free elections and competitive political parties. Voting is central to democracy, and citizens must also be able to discuss politics, form interest groups, contact public officials, campaign for competing parties, protest government decisions. For example, Senior Citizens take great political participation in the government. Political participation refers to those activities of private citizens that are more or less directly aimed at influencing the selection of government personnel and /or actions they take.

Senior citizens in the United States are increasingly active and influential in politics. They are concerned with politics and government, as they prove when they participate in politics through voting, working in political organizations, and holding office. They seek to remain informed in politics, particularly because they are the object of governmental programs. Old-age political organizations have expended tremendously in number, size, and influence during the last few decades. Older people seek to remain informed in politics particularly because they are the object of governmental programs. They share a number of political concerns, and collectively they benefit from government programs based on old age or retirement status, such as Social Security and Medicare.

According to the American National Election Study in 1990, older people are more likely to follow the news daily. More elderly than any other age groups are reported reading a daily newspaper and watching the news on television every day during the previous week. Not only do older people pay close attention to politics, they also vote more than younger adults. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, people over 65 exhibit the highest rate of voter turnout of any age group. Since the mid- to late-1980s, voter turnout in national elections has been even higher among those 65 and over. Combined with the growing proportion of older people in the U.S. population, this high turnout rate makes the elderly an increasingly important group of voters.

As a group, senior citizens exercise enormous political power. In the 1980s, based on inaccurate assumptions about the actual situation of the older population, severe cuts were made in Social Security, and Medicare. Social Security is a social insurance that provides economic assistance to people faced with unemployment, disability and also provides medical care for the elderly. Medicare was provided by the Social Security Act in 1965. It is a compulsory insurance that covers certain hospital services for people over sixty five and older. When Congress passed the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act in 1988expending Medicare benefits and taxing Medicare beneficiaries to pay for themsenior citizens across the nation protested through pickets demonstrations, letters, and phone calls. Seventeen months later, Congress repealed the act . This was the first time congress had rescinded major social benefits it had created. The catastrophic coverage incident illustrated the collective power of older U.S. citizens.

Most senior citizens vociferously oppose increasing their personal contributions to Medicare, the government program that delays medical costs for the elderly, preferring to have all citizens pay for their coverage. Among voters sixty and older, a majority voted for president Bill Clinton in the 1992 an 1996 national election. The Clinton Administration is committed to providing seniors quality and choice health care plans. These innovative managed care plans are expanding the options available to our beneficiaries, an expanding the reach of Medicare managed care to beneficiaries in rural areas who traditionally have had the fewest managed care options.

Actions on behalf of older people has almost always depended on the political support of organizations. The role of modern old age interest groups such as the American Association of Retired Persons is to make the need for action highly visible and to lobby for the interest of older people within existing programs. According to the AARP most political activities, ranging from voting to campaign work to organization membership, remain stable or increase beyond the age of sixty-five. Political interest and activity do not subside in old age; if anything they grow.

Senior citizens have used and continue to use their civil liberties by participating in government policies. There are many organizations that serves the needs and interests of senior citizens through research and advocating for their interests. One such interest is Social Securities. Social Security is one of the most concerned issues of senior citizens in the United States.

The American Associations of Retired Persons is one of the leading organizations in the nation. They are a non-profit organization that serves to inform voter of their needs and interests. They organize meeting with the President to discuss issues that concern them. Senior citizen organizations also sponsor debates between different parties to determine which party serves their needs and interests best.

On September 26, 1996 President Clinton and presidential nominee, Bob Dole, announced their strong support for Social Security and Medicare. They also discussed their stands on certain issues that concerns senior citizens. AARP sent these interviews, which were printed on the A.A.R.P bulletin, to over 30 million AARP members. This is a great number of people who has a big impact on the 1996 Presidential election. Senior citizen organizations uses their resources to promote their political opinions so their interests can be carried out by politicians.

In 1996, A.A.R.P influenced voters opinion by distributing its 1996 Presidential Voters Guide to its members. They informed voters during the 1996 election year about issues such as Social Security and Medicare. By educating voters, these organizations are able to accomplish their goals more effectively.

Medicare is another program that senior citizens are most concerned about. Medicare is a social insurance program that Americans aged 65 and over are entitled to. Senior citizens fought hard to keep the Medicare program by voting for officials who supported the Medicare program. A.A.R.P serves senior citizens by making sure physicians doesn't succeed in urging Congress to repeal important programs such as consumer protection provision that are part of the Balance Budget Act of 1997. If these physicians succeed, Medicare would be vulnerable to more fraud and abuse. Beneficiaries will also be at a higher risk to higher health care costs. Organizations such as A.A.R.P help senior citizens protect Medicare from Private Contracting Provisions.

Senior citizen organizations also help the elderly by having Senators and Representatives sign bills in their favor. One example is the hope to eliminate the "death tax". A.A.R.P has made this bill their top priority in the 105th Congress. They had both Republicans and Democrats sign the bill to eliminate the death tax.

A.A.R.P educate voters by writing newsletters about issues that concern senior citizens. They inform senior citizens about what politicians say are true or false. Politicians sometimes say they intend to keep and promote Medicare just to get the good public opinion. An example of this is the accusations made by President Clinton about Bob Dole. President Clinton accused Bob Dole and his Republicans are cutting Medicare. Members of senior citizen groups wrote newsletters to inform voters that Clinton's accusations were false. These organizations are aware of what's going on in politics concerning Medicare and Medicaid. They seek the truth and inform voters about these truths.

Medicare is a health-insurance program provided to Senior Citizens by the social security. It is available for all senior citizens. It supports millions of senior citizens by covering parts of their medical expends, and the government spends billions of dollars in this program every year. Therefore, senior citizens concern a lot about their benefits from Medicare.

Medicare is separated into two parts, part A and part B. The part A covers most of hospital services, and part B covers the services of physicians and other qualifying providers. In 1994, the US Government paid more than $103 billion in part B and $58 billion in part B. Since part B requires the premiums, the numbers of senior citizens enroll in part A is always found to be much greater than the number of senior citizens enroll in part B. That is because most senior citizens have limited income, and they cannot afford the premiums in part B. It is true to most American senior citizens.

Part A helps pay for hospital services, but there is still a lot that it does not pay for. For example acupuncture, care in a foreign hospital, hearing aids, nursing home care, and etc. In order to be eligible for part B, senior citizens have to pay some premiums, and as older you are the more premiums you'll pay. For an incidence, "for a seventy-six-year-old, the yearly premium can be between $6,000 and $7,000, but a nursing home can cost $50,000 in a year." Medicare seems that it never matched senior citizens' medical spends.

Though the government pays a big amount of money in this program, most people do not realize that senior citizens never got enough to pay the bills off. There is one major reason which causes by high causes of medical services. Causes of drugs and hospital services increasing constantly every year. In 1996, the total costs for 22 drugs raised $447 million. It was about 20 percents higher than 1995. Nevertheless, shots and drugs used during cancer chemotherapy raised as much as 25%. The difference between 1995 and 1996 was $5 billion.

However, Medicare doesn't cover fully because it has been partially wasted. It is the fact that some of Medicare spends are overpaid by senior citizens. For an example, in 1995, $17 billion were lost each year according to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Inspector General (IG), June Gibbs Brown. Later in 1996, "the IG was forced to revise that staggering figure upward, estimating that the true losses due to fraud, waste, and abuse were closer to $23.2 billion a year." It had also included $667 million of overpayment in drugs. Secondly, "46% of the $23 billion was the result of insufficient or absent documentation." Moreover, the IG was unable to determine rest of the wastes. After all, all the wastes were not caused by the senior citizens, and they are the victims due to the inflation.

There are some political participants do not want the government to spend money in this social program. They think that it is wasteful to spend their taxes on Medicare. These people mostly are non-elderly or who do not rely on Medicare. Besides, some of them are governors in congresses. Therefore, they do not exactly understand how important does Medicare mean to senior citizens.

Since senior citizens would lose their benefice if they do not participate in politics, they become the most active political participants in the USA. Their participation does not only save their Medicare from being cut back by the congresses, but also detects on governmental wastes of Medicare. Therefore, they understand and use their civil rights in political participation.

Civil rights can be described as the rights of all citizens, regardless of race, religion, sex, etc, to enjoy life, liberty, property, and the equal protection of law. Civil liberties are defined as freedoms protected by law. Both the use of civil liberties and the protection of civil rights are extremely important to senior citizens which results in high senior citizen political participation and a strong influence on the president.

Two of the very important civil rights entitled to senior citizens are medicare and social security. Social security is important where for many senior citizens it provides their only income after retirement and medicare helps to finance often needed health care. Many special interest groups such as the N.C.S.C devote their time to help preserve these programs. As stated by the N.C.S.C or The National Council of Senior Citizens, the Council has devoted itself to making life better for people of retirement age-older people who depend principally on Social Security checks for their monthly income, and Medicare for quality health care at affordable prices.www.ncscinc.org. The importance of these programs results in very strong political participation by senior citizens across the nation. Senior citizens have been shown to have a large voter turnout in elections and also form very strong interest groups such as the previously stated N.C.S.C and the infamous A.A.R.P, etc.

The large number of voting senior citizens and many special interest groups also has a strong influence on the president. As can be shown in the presidential election of 1996, both President Clinton and challenger Bob Dole catered towards the seniors votes, and their ideas on the future of social security and medicare were seen as important and very debatable issues. Both the future of social security and the importance of needed health care reform were included in both parties political platforms.

Senior citizens use of Medicare, enacted in 1965 under title XVIII of the Social Security Act, and social security, started in 1935 by President Roosevelt, have been extremely important programs since their enactment. These programs which were first only to be used to alleviate conditions that individuals are powerless to prevent have gradually transformed to entitlements or rights for all senior citizens regardless of need. Medicare has now become a major payer in the U.S. health care system, accounting for 28% of all hospital and 20% of all physician payments. The result of this large investment in health care has created a large financial strain on the United States, and a need for reform was one of the major platforms of President Clintons election in 1992. In 1993 hundreds of experts under Hillary Clinton conceived a plan of health care reform consisting of 1,300 pages!

In result of social security, people aged sixty-five and older are the second-richest age group in the United States. Political economists recently estimated the government spends $350 billion on senior citizens, more than on national defense! In conclusion, the vulnerability of senior citizens and their reliance on these programs has caused an explosion in senior citizen voter turnout and open political participation. The fear of losing benefits was very strong in the 1996 election, where both President Clinton and Senator Dole were found to campaign strongly in areas with an abundance of senior citizens, such as in Florida. In result of the fear of losing their civil rights and continued use of these programs, senior citizens continue to be very politically active which causes a strong influence on the president.