End the duopoly

If You Think Politicians Cater to Seniors Now, Just Wait

Republicans are giving up on entitlement reform, and seniors’ share of the population will only grow.

The president on Thursday unveiled the “Executive Order on Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors,” a plan to, among other things, expand seniors’ options within Medicare Advantage, the popular program that allows the elderly to buy private health plans in lieu of receiving traditional Medicare.

There are several conversations we could have about this move. We could talk about the debate over Medicare Advantage itself, in which conservatives point out that it is far more cost-effective than traditional Medicare but skeptics say the savings aren’t passed through to taxpayers. Or we could talk about how this fits into the Trump administration’s broader efforts on health care, which have freed up many Americans to buy many plans that regulations previously took off the table. Or we could talk about the criticisms Trump made of the Democrats’ health-care plans, and whether those plans would really hurt seniors as he claimed, rather than holding seniors harmless and expanding benefits for everyone else.

But instead, let’s talk about why the president, facing a major controversy you no doubt have already read about elsewhere, would head to Florida to visit “the country’s largest retirement community” (as the New York Times observed) and make a big show of how much he supported Medicare. The reason is that seniors have a hugely disproportionate sway over this country’s politics and policy, and their power will only continue to grow even as it destroys our finances.

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In 2016, 71 percent of those age 65 and up voted; so did 67 percent of those 45 to 64, the folks who will be retiring in the next two decades. Those 18 to 29 voted at a rate of 46 percent, those 30 to 44 at a rate of 59 percent. Put differently, those 45 and up outnumber those 18 to 44 about five to four among citizens — but nearly two to one among voters.

This longstanding gap in political involvement will only become more important as the Baby Boomers retire. Between 2020 and 2040, the senior population is expected to grow by 44 percent, while the 18–64 population grows by just 6 percent. That’s why seniors are and will continue to be such a key constituency — and it explains much about our fiscal crisis, too.


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