AARP poll: women over 50 to decide control of congress, state capitols

Published in RINewsToday on April 11, 2022

It’s just 214 days until the upcoming midterm elections scheduled for Nov. 8, 2022, (Rhode Island’s primary is 167 days away scheduled for Sept. 13, 2022). During the 117th Congress, with a slim majority of 222 Democrats to 212 Republicans, the Democrats control the House chamber. When the dust settles after the election we’ll see if the Democrats retain their grip on this chamber. Washington insiders say that Senate Democrats, holding the majority with a 50-50 split with vice president Kamala Harris’ having a tie-breaking vote, could lose control of the upper chamber if the Republican Party flips seats. Thirty-five Senators are up for reelection.

Twenty Republican and 16 Democrat gubernatorial seats (including Rhode Island) are also up for grabs this election cycle, too.

A new AARP study finds that women voters aged 50 and over who haven’t decided which candidate to support will decide who controls Congress and state capitols across the nation in the next election.

Taking a Look at Older Women Voters

AARP’s  new research findings released April 6th, in partnership with pollsters Celinda Lake, Christine Matthews, Kristen Soltis Anderson, and Margie Omero, found that only 17% of women in this key voting bloc have made up their mind about who they will support in the upcoming 2022 elections. Not quite two-thirds (65%) of these voters say they will not make their decisions until weeks or even days before Election Day.

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, women voters aged 50 and over do not solidly belong in either party’s camp — and the vast majority haven’t made up their minds about how they’ll vote in November,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer. “The instability and uncertainty of the economy, the pandemic, and the political environment are leading these women to demand that candidates address quality of life and pocketbook issues like the cost of living, supply chain problems, and ways to end the discord permeating politics today,” she says.

The pollsters found that the most important issues for r women voters aged 50 and over are “kitchen table budgets” and the “day-to-day experience of rising prices.” Nearly half of those surveyed (46%) see rising cost of living as the most important issue facing the nation today. And 59% say rising prices are the most important issue to them, personally, when reflecting about the economy.

According to AARP, women aged 50 and over are one of the largest, most reliable group of voters. According to voter file and census bureau data, they make up a little more than one-quarter (27%) of registered voters and cast nearly a third (30%) of all ballots in both the 2020 and 2018 elections.  In 2020, 83% of registered women voters in this age group turned out and in 2018, the last midterm election, they were 15% more likely to vote than the population at large, says the nation’s largest advocacy group.  

Concerns About Rising Costs and the Nation’s Economy 

AARP’s national survey also found that 72% of the woman respondents are concerned about having enough income to cover rising costs, with 48% saying they are very concerned. Fifty two percent say the economy is not working well for them, a 15-point change from 2019, when just 37% of women said the economy was not working well for them.

The pollsters found that most are not optimistic about their own financial futures in the next 12 months – with 47% saying they think their personal financial situation will stay the same, while 39% think it will get worse and only 13% think it will improve. The survey findings also indicated that those respondents age 50-64 are intensely worried about saving for retirement and their financial future – with 51% saying they are very concerned about Social Security being there for their retirement and 30% saying they are most concerned about having saved enough for retirement.  

According to the AARP survey, women voters aged 50 and over also expressed concern about political division in the country, and they are unimpressed with the job elected officials are doing on a range of issues, including their dominant concern of rising prices.

By more than a two-to-one margin, the pollsters say that these voters want politicians who are willing to work together to get things done, even if the result is an occasional compromise that goes against voters’ values (67%), over politicians who consistently fight for their values but don’t often find solutions (30%). This finding remains consistent across party identifications, with 77% of Democratic women and 57% of Republican women preferring a politician compromise to get things done, while 21% of Democratic women and 40% of Republican women prefer a values-prioritizing politician.

Taking a deeper look, the pollsters found that women voters 50 and over are divided evenly by party (44% R – 45% D), in sharp contrast to their male counterparts who are solidly Republican (51% R – 38% D).  In a generic ballot, the Democratic candidate for Congress (48% will vote for) has a 7-point advantage over the Republican candidate (41% will vote for) among these women voters.

Similar Observations from the Pollsters 

“Addressing the rising cost of living is an issue that any smart candidate for office will put front and center this year,” said Kristen Soltis Anderson, founding partner, Echelon Insights. “Especially in midterm elections, women voters aged 50 and over will be a critical group that both parties must compete for, and cost of living is clearly the top issue on which they want leaders to be focused,” she said.

Celinda Lake, founder and president, Lake Research Partners, agrees with Anderson that women aged 50 and over can be the significant voting bloc in the 2022 elections. “They are sure to turn out in high numbers when many other voters are disengaging. These voters have yet to make up their minds and are dissatisfied with the jobs their elected leaders are doing, especially on the kitchen table economic issues they face every day,” she notes.

“Women over 50 may not only be the decision-makers in their households, but they may also be the decision-makers of the midterm elections,” said Margie Omero, Principal at GBAO.

Christine Matthews, President of Bellwether Research, says“Women over 50 are arguably the most important voting cohort for the 2022 midterm elections – and they are not happy,” “They are extremely worried about the impact rising prices – particularly groceries – are having on their budget and their ability to save for retirement,” she says.

Matthew adds,” A majority say the economy is not working for them – a significant uptick from two years ago. They want politicians to work together to find solutions to inflation and other key issues, but they are not pleased with what they see. Elected officials should be prepared to demonstrate to this key group that they are working productively on cost-of-living issues,” she says.

The AARP national survey was conducted by phone and online from Feb. 18 to March 3, 2022, using 1,836 voters aged 50 and over who are likely to vote in 2022, with samples of Black voters, Hispanic/Latino voters, Asian American/Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander voters, as well as American Indian/Alaska Native voters. 

A Final Note…

It’s just seven months before the upcoming midterm elections. The historical voting pattern of midterm elections is clear. “The sitting president’s party almost always loses House seats in the midterms. Going back to Harry Truman’s presidency, the president’s party has lost, on average, 29 House seats in each president’s first midterm election,” says James M. Lindsay, senior vice president, director of studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations, in a blog article, “The 2022 Midterm Congressional Elections by Number,” published on March 8, 2022.

Lindsay, senior vice president and director of studies and Maurice R. Greenberg chair, says, “The betting money is that the Republican Party will be the winner on election night, taking back control of one, if not both houses of Congress,” he says, noting that eight months can be a lifetime in politics. 

Republicans are optimistic in picking up seats because of Biden’s low job approval rating, inflation being at a 40-year high, 31 incumbent Democrats retiring (it’s more difficult to defeat an incumbent) and the COVID-19 pandemic still killing 1,500 American’s daily, says Lindsay. But Lindsay predicts Democrats may do better at the polls just because “the midterms are still eight months away,” and who knows where the country will be then. “The redistricting of House seats is going well for the Democrats with several states throwing out Republican redistricting plans and others enacting redistricting plans to benefit the Democrats, he says.

“The Senate math favors Democrats, the party just defending 14 seats while Republicans must keep 21 Senate seats,” adds Lindsay. “Ideologically extreme candidates” will push away moderate voters in House and Senate races, he says. 

But AARP’s national poll warning to Senators, House lawmakers, and Governors to not ignore the concerns of older women voters should be heeded. Not listening has a political cost. It may well determine the balance of power in the next election. 

AARP Rhode Island calls on Congress to act on lowering high drug costs

Published on March 14, 2022 in Rhode Island News Today

On the day before the Washington, DC-based AARP’s March 8th launch of its new ad campaign showing the impact of Congress’s failure to act on prescription drug prices, AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor, Volunteer State President Marcus Mitchell and Volunteer Lead Federal Liaison Dr. Phil Zarlengo joined Rhode Island US Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse for a virtual news conference highlighting the need for Congress to act now to slash rising prescription drug costs. 

During the 26 minute and 45 second event, AARP Rhode Island, representing 132,000 members, delivered a petition signed by more than 16,114 Rhode Islanders, calling for Congress to act now and stop unfair drug prices. AARP has called for fair drug prices for years and supports legislation that passed the House in November, which would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, put a cap on out-of-pocket costs that older adults pay for their prescription drugs and impose penalties on drug companies that raise prices faster than the rate of inflation.

“Americans are fed up with paying three times what people in other countries pay for the same drugs. More than four million people across the country, including more than 16,000 here in the Ocean State, are joining AARP to demand lower prices for prescription drugs,” said Taylor in a statement announcing the petition being delivered to Reed and Whitehouse. “There will never be a better time to lower drug prices than the historic opportunity in front of Congress. Now is the time to get it done!” Taylor says.

Big Pharma makes billions from high drug costs

“Big Pharma is making billions while seniors and taxpayers are suffering,” says AARP State President Mitchell, noting that just last month Big Pharma raised the prices of 800 prescription medications.” People are sick and tired of paying three times for prescription drugs what people in other countries are paying for these drugs, “It’s outrageous and unacceptable,” Mitchell said.

According to Mitchell, “if consumer prices had risen as fast as drug prices during the last 15 years, gas would cost $12.20 a gallon and milk would cost $13 a gallon.” This gives perspective to this issue, he said.

“Big Pharma is trying again to scare lawmakers and members of AARP and everyone else with misleading claims to stop Medicare to negotiate prices, charged Zarlengo. “We, at least, know the truth. The truth is by allowing Medicare negotiation [of prices], that process will help seniors during these times of inflation by lowing their prices of drugs and putting more money in their pocket,” he said.

Zarlengo gave the two Rhode Island Senators a message from Rhode Island seniors: “Don’t let Pharma win this time, lets lower drug prices now.”

“We hear you loud and clear,” said Senator Reed, responding to the over 16,000 signees of AARP’s petition. “Congress must address this issue of drug pricing. The system continues to force families into untenable choices between their health and other basic needs. One of the simplest things to do is to allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries. I have been urging administrations, both Republican and Democratic for more than a decade to do this,” he noted.

“The VA already does this,” said Senator Whitehouse told his fellow panelists and those tuning in to the March 7 news conference. “And there is a big discrepancy in what the Veterans Administration (VA) pays for drugs and what Medicare pays for drugs. We have a reconciliation bill still in the Senate; it’s something Democrats can pass with only 50 votes. The bad news is that we need all 50 members to agree on the reconciliation measure and that has proven difficult. I hope we can agree on a package that all 50 of us can sign off on… and finally, finally, finally give Americans the drug pricing relief that they need. AARP is incredibly important in this fight. All your members make a difference. Thank you for stepping up yet again,” he said.

AARP fights Big Pharma on television and with digital advertising

In AARP’s new ad campaign, Larry Zarzecki, a retired law enforcement officer with Parkinson’s Disease who was forced to sell his home in order to afford his medications, returns to the airways as a spokesperson for AARP, illustrating the impact of the high cost of prescription drugs on seniors.  The retiree first shared his story in an AARP ad three years ago, but Congress’ failure to act means he has had no relief from the high cost of his treatments. As he says in the new ad, “I shouldn’t have to decide between my home or my medicine because Congress refuses to act. I’m tired of waiting for Congress.”

AARP’s seven-figure ad buy includes television and digital advertising in the DC area, and television in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, New Hampshire, New York, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.

Responding to AARP’s new ad campaign, AARP Rhode Island’s Taylor said: “Larry Zarzecki was forced to sell his home in order to afford his medications.  He is but one example of Congress’ failure to act. No one should have to give up a home in order to pay for over-priced prescription medicines.  She called on Congress to put a stop to “spiraling price increases” by giving Medicare the authority to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices.

“If the Veterans Administration can do so – paying roughly half as much for brand name prescription drugs as does Medicare Part D – then why can’t Medicare?” says Taylor.  “For a decade, Big Pharma has spent more on stock buybacks and dividends than on research and development; it’s outrageous that drug makers are charging Americans three times what people in other countries pay for the same drugs and justifying it with lies and scare tactics that simply don’t hold up,” she  added.

AARP has called for lower drug prices for years and is urging the Senate to pass legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, put a cap on out-of-pocket costs that older adults pay for their prescription drugs and impose penalties on drug companies that raise prices faster than the rate of inflation.

“Americans are sick and tired of Congress’ broken promises to bring down the price of prescription drugs,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer announcing the launching of this ad campaign. “As Americans pay more and more for many consumer goods, Congress has an historic opportunity to lower drug prices and help seniors like Larry to afford their medications and other essentials,” she said.

It’s time to act NOW

According to AARP, without congressional action, pharmaceutical companies will continue to set high prices for prescription drugs and raise them without any warning or justification. The Washington, DC based advocacy group representing 38 million members recently released a report showing that 75 of the 100 brand name drugs with the highest total Medicare Part D spending have already increased their  list prices in the first month of 2022.

During the State of the Union, President Biden called for Congress to bring down the price of prescription drugs as a way to help consumers manage rising prices. The House of Representatives passed several prescription drug measures as part of the Build Back Better Act in November, but the Senate has yet to pass similar legislation.

It’s time for the Senate to put the welfare of the nation’s seniors first by passing legislation to put the brakes to spiraling prescription drug costs. This will be a hot campaign issue in the upcoming mid-term elections, just 230 days from now.

Medicare slow to fix equity issue for seniors’ access to at-home COVID test kits

Published on Feb. 7 in Rhode Island News Today

Today home test kits were made available in a variety of ways – but, for Medicare recipients, it was a different story, being forced to go thru a different purchasing and payment process than those having private insurance, or no insurance. That process required the oldest and most at-risk population to take more than several steps, put up their own money, do a lot of paperwork, to seek reimbursement.

The White House made changes in testing so that at-home tests are now fully covered by health insurances. Those insured can pick up their test kits in a store and have them paid for at the time of purchase by their insurance, at no cost to the person. They aren’t required to visit their physician or get a prescription to obtain the free test. They have a limit of 8 test kits per month.

But, when the program began, this was not the plan for those insured through the government’s Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans.

Red Tape… Upfront Charges for COVID-1

Jane, a 65-year old Medicare beneficiary from Warwick went through the steps to get a kit after a relative she had seen found out she was exposed to COVID.  Before Medicare announced easing up on the purchasing process of COVID-19 test kits, she expressed frustrations to this writer about the regulatory hoops she faced because she was on Medicare – purchasing the test kits and getting reimbursed for the upfront charges. “First, I had to request a prescription from my physician and say that I had either been exposed to someone who had COVID, or I was having symptoms, myself,” recalls the frustrated Medicare beneficiary.  “Once my physician sent the prescription over to CVS, I was notified that it would take a couple of days before I could pick up the kits and that I would only be given two kits per prescription”, she fumed, knowing that sometimes it takes 4 or 5 days of testing to test positive, but was only eligible to receive two, and she might have to go through the whole process again in a few days.

“Three days later CVS finally left me a message saying these kits were in. I used the drive-up window for pickup and the cashier asked me for $46,” Jane remembered.  “When questioning this charge, a pharmacist came to the window to assist and told me that I had to pay for the kits upfront and then seek reimbursement,” she added.

Paying for the kits, Jane went home, and called Blue Cross, her Medicare supplement company and was told she needed to request a copy of the prescription which took hours to finally request with the back and forth phone calls to her busy doctor’s office. It was almost two weeks later she finally got a copy of the receipt detailing her $46 payment for the kits. She was then able to upload the copy of the prescription and a copy of her receipt to a BCBS reimbursement screen on her computer (or she could have printed the form out and mailed the whole package in). At press time, Jane is still waiting for her reimbursement, being told it will take from 4 to 6 weeks to receive a check.

It’s better late than never, says Jane, when she heard that Medicare would now cover free over-the-counter COVID-19 tests. “Not everyone can put out $46 and wait two months to get it back, home health tests were made available in a variety of ways – but, for Medicare recipients, there was a different process. More concerning was all the steps I had to take to complete the process they had originally intended for us to do. How many people would really complete all those steps?” she says. “We talk a lot about equity, but seniors need equitable healthcare processes, too.”

Just days ago, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that beneficiaries in either Original Medicare or Medicare Advantage will be able to get over-the-counter COVID-19 tests at no cost starting in early spring, estimated to be in April. Under the new CMS initiative, Medicare beneficiaries will be able to access up to eight over-the-counter COVID-19 tests per month for free. Tests will be available through eligible pharmacies and other participating entities. This policy will apply to COVID-19 over-the-counter tests approved or authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A prescription will not be required.

CMS Unveils New Medicare Benefit

According to CMS, this new initiative will enable payment from Medicare directly to participating pharmacies and other participating entities to allow Medicare beneficiaries to pick up tests at no cost. This is the first time that Medicare has covered an over-the-counter test at no cost to beneficiaries.

CMS’s announcement follows last month’s announcement that the Biden-Harris Administration would be requiring commercial health insurance companies to cover at-home COVID tests for free.

Until the new benefit kicks in, Medicare beneficiaries can access free tests through a number of channels established by CMS, too. Now, they can request four free over-the-counter tests for home delivery at covidtests.gov. Or beneficiaries can access COVID-19 tests through health care providers at over 20,000 free testing sites nationwide. Many cities and towns are also giving out free test kits at drive-up handout programs as the state receives supplies.

CMS’s Feb. 3 statement noted that Medicare beneficiaries can also access lab-based PCR tests and antigen tests performed by a laboratory when the test is ordered by a physician, non-physician practitioner, pharmacist, or other authorized health care professional at no cost. In addition to accessing a COVID-19 lab test ordered by a health care professional, people with Medicare can also already access one lab-performed test without an order, also without cost sharing, during the public health emergency, says CMS.

In addition, CMS says that Medicare Advantage plans may offer coverage and payment for over-the-counter COVID-19 tests as a supplemental benefit in addition to covering Medicare Part A and Part B benefits. Medicare beneficiaries covered by Medicare Advantage should check with their plan to see if it includes such a benefit.

Finally, all Medicare beneficiaries with Part B are eligible for the new benefit, whether enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan or not.

“AARP applauds today’s announcement that will guarantee access to at-home over-the-counter COVID-19 tests at no cost for Medicare’s 64 million beneficiaries and we thank [Health and Human Resources]Secretary Becerra and CMS Administrator Brooks-LaSure for their diligence in addressing this issue. Expanded access to no-cost testing will help protect seniors who have been hit hardest by the pandemic and ensure they can remain connected with their loved ones and community.,” says AARP Executive vice president and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond in a statement issued with CMS’s Feb. 3rd announcement of the new Medicare benefit.

“Every American should have an easy way to get at-home COVID tests. We know that people 65 and older are at much greater risk of serious illness and death from this disease – they need equal access to tools that can help keep them safe. The cost of paying for tests and the time needed to find free testing options are barriers that could discourage Medicare beneficiaries from getting tested, leading to greater social isolation and continued spread of the virus, adds LeaMond.

Successfully Advocating the Seniors

Last month, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) along with 17 of their  Senate colleagues including Rhode Island Democratic Senators Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse wrote to HHS Secretary Becerra and  CMS Administrator Brooks-LaSure urging them to expand Medicare coverage of free at-home rapid COVID-19 testing.

Aging groups also joined the Senators in pushing Medicare to offer the new testing kick benefit.  “It is clear that regular testing is a crucial part of managing the spread of COVID-19. That’s why AARP has been calling for coverage of at-home tests, says AARP’s LeaMond, noting that the nation’s largest aging advocacy group “will continue to watch for details about when and how at-home COVID tests are made available to those in Medicare.”

Thankfully CMS quickly heeded their calls.

For more information, please see these Frequently Asked Questions, https://www.cms.gov/files/document/covid-19-over-counter-otc-tests-medicare-frequently-asked-questions.pdf (PDF)

Stay tuned for free N95 masks to be made available to all coming up soon.