The election results showed there may be signs of change in the way older voters vote. Republicans have captured seniors’ votes in every election since 2008, but according to CNN exit polls, 48% of voters 65+ and 49% of those 45-64 identified themselves as Democrats; 50% of both groups called themselves Republicans. By contrast, in the 2014 midterms, 41% of voters 65+ and 45% of those 45-64 were Democrats.
The prospects of “entitlement reform” that would lead to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid now seem much less likely with a divided Congress. There is a bipartisan reluctance to address issues facing Social Security’s solvency, and plenty of bipartisan history of avoiding difficult choices on this until it is absolutely necessary. And that time is not now.
The progress that Medicare has enjoyed from the Affordable Care Act is likely to continue in the new Congress. House Democrats may use their new majority to garner more support for what’s known as Medicare for All—broadening the federal health insurance program from covering primarily people 65 and older to a single-payer plan covering Americans of all ages.
The major threats to Medicaid—the federal-state health insurance program for lower-income Americans—including converting funding to a block grant or imposing a per capita spending limit, virtually disappear in a divided Congress. One can at least hope that more attention may emerge to expanding home and community-based services for Medicaid.
Newly empowered Congressmen and -women may also have an effect. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who is likely to become the new House Speaker, has said that addressing high prescription drug prices will be one of her party’s top priorities. The important House Appropriations Committee gavel is expected to go to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), a longtime champion of aging programs. The most significant change in the Senate for aging issues is the expected move by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to become chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Grassley has a longtime involvement with many aging issues, especially elder justice.