Survey 'Explodes' Liberal Myths About Senior Voters

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - A survey of older, likely voters released Wednesday "explodes" the liberal myths that most senior citizens don't have prescription drug coverage and that they want a one-size-fits-all, government-run prescription drug plan.

Art Linkletter, businessman and former host of the television program "Kids Say the Darnedest Things," serves as the honorary chairman for the United Seniors Association (USA). During a briefing for the media and congressional staff, he said the survey provides important information at a very crucial time, when the Senate is preparing to act on a prescription drug benefit program through Medicare.

"The new survey of senior voters explodes the myths on health care and prescription drugs," he said, "and brings out the real truth of what we need in this critical time."

Charles Jarvis, chairman and CEO of USA, said that there is "a great deal of misinformation and disinformation" about seniors' views on health care.

"Seniors have very specific views on healthcare, on prescription drugs, on the nature of Medicare, and what they want," he asserted. "And I would dare say that for many of us in this room, there's a good possibility that everything you think seniors believe may be wrong, or a lot of what you think they believe may be wrong."

Findings in the survey include:

    Fifty-nine percent of senior voters who currently have prescription drug benefits would not trade their present plan for a government program;
    Of self-identified Medicare recipients, 67 percent would not trade their present plan for a government program;
    Seventy percent of senior voters think it is unfair that members of Congress and federal employees have choices in their health insurance and drug coverage not available to older Americans through Medicare,
    Ninety percent of respondents believe they be able to choose between different health care plans with different benefits "just like members of Congress and federal employees."

The telephone survey, conducted by McLaughlin and Associates, queried 800 random "likely voters" age 50 and older. The poll's sample was controlled to statistically correlate with the actual census data for voters over age 50, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent and a confidence factor of 95 percent.

Pollster John McLaughlin said he was not surprised by the results.

"There are numbers here that, outside of Washington, people know are true," he said. "It's just inside Washington that these numbers are a revelation."

Jarvis said the implications of the survey's results are clear.

"The bill that the House passed, with the help of some Democrats but mostly Republicans, back in June is a bill that tracks with the opinions of the large majority of senior voters," he said. "The difficulty in the Senate with the AARP-Ted Kennedy-Tom Daschle legislation ... those bills track against the majority of seniors."

The House passed the "Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug Act" (H.R. 4954) on June 28 by a vote of 221 to 208. The legislation would give Medicare recipients the choice to participate in a number of prescription drug benefit plans operated privately, with government oversight.

Steve Hahn, spokesman for AARP [the group formerly known as the American Association for Retired Persons], called the House-passed bill "a start" but said the proposal needed a lot of work.

"We had hoped that the Senate would come back with a stronger bill with more federal funding," he said. "We think that Medicare can do the most to lower drug costs."

AARP's David Gross believes privately run plans will fail at least some Americans.

"If there is a choice of plans," he said, "there has to be a real, meaningful, federal fallback for people who live in areas where the private sector won't offer a plan."

Jarvis dismisses such negative comments about the private sector and believes the Senate should consider the House-passed bill as soon as possible, and pass it with few, if any changes.

"If members do that, they will literally pull together a massive number of seniors to support their plans," he predicted. "If they don't they will find themselves increasingly going against the majority of seniors."

E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.