Prescriptions key for older voters, poll says

By SHARON SALYER

Herald Writer

Prescription drug coverage could be the dominant issue when Washington residents age 50 and older vote in next month’s elections, even though many have drug coverage, a poll of AARP members shows.

The national organization, which advocates on behalf of people 50 and older and has 714,000 members statewide, released findings Tuesday from a recent poll showing how deeply those in that age group feel about prescription drug issues.

Why has the issue become so key for those voters this year?

"I think the main issue is the increasing cost of drugs," said Gene Wright, an AARP researcher. "It’s harder and harder for people who are poor.

"Another factor is the HMOs moving out of the Medicare market," he said. "That’s where so many seniors have gotten their prescription drug benefits."

Jo Senters, the organization’s state director, said that 80 percent of U.S. seniors are taking at least one prescription drug daily, accounting for a third of all such purchases.

"They are the highest users (of prescription drugs) and have the least coverage," she said.

On average, Washington seniors pay nearly $2,000 a year for prescriptions and nearly $400 out of pocket, she said.

Among the poll’s findings:

  • Almost 60 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a congressional candidate who supports expanding Medicare to add prescription drug coverage.

  • More than two-thirds say that if prescription drug benefits are added under Medicare, they should be for everyone rather than just for those with low incomes.

  • Nearly two-thirds say adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare should be either a top or a high priority.

  • Nearly three-quarters are either very concerned or somewhat concerned about being able to afford the cost of prescription drugs over the next few years.

    The telephone poll of 800 Washington residents who belong to AARP was conducted in August. Its accuracy is estimated to be within 3.5 percentage points.

    More than half of all state residents 50 and older are members of the organization.

    The survey found high interest in the prescription drug coverage issue even though 60 percent of AARP members in Washington have such coverage.

    In part, this may be because 40 percent of members reported that either they had personally experienced the frustration of having problems paying for prescription drugs in the past six months or knew of a family member who had.

    Because those 65 and older vote in greater proportion nationally than any other age group — nearly 70 percent turned out for the 1996 presidential elections — they could become a key factor in this year’s elections, state AARP representatives said.

    "Our members have spoken loud and clear," Senters said. "They want affordable and universal prescription drug benefits under Medicare, and they’re ready to take this issue to the polls."

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