For years, older people have been more likely to vote than have their younger counterparts: in the 2016 election, 71 percent of Americans age 65 and older voted, compared to only 46 percent of those ages 18-29. They are likely to exert a major effect on the election again in 2020, especially in those swing states with large older populations such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Four years ago, 53 percent of voters over age 65 voted for Donald Trump, compared to 44 percent for Hilary Clinton. Whatever these voters thought in 2016, older individuals today should know that Trump is bad for the elderly. He's especially bad for their health.
Among the most explicit and egregious ways that Trump has adversely affected the health and health care of older Americans is his failure to lead the country effectively in the coronavirus era. His unwillingness to develop and implement a coherent national strategy and his refusal to accept the science underlying public health recommendations have contributed to the high incidence of COVID-19 and the correspondingly high death rate from the disease—and people over the age of 65 account for 80 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.
In addition, the Trump administration has pursued a vigorous policy of seeking to privatize Medicare, the popular and successful source of health care insurance for the vast majority of older people. For example, Trump issued an executive order in October, 2019 entitled “Protecting and Improving Medicare for Our Nation’s Seniors” which, far from either protecting or improving Medicare, aims to bolster private Medicare Advantage plans (a popular choice for some well elderly) to the detriment of fee-for-service Medicare (the long-preferred option for frail older people) while dismantling safeguards on access and shifting costs to beneficiaries.
Then there are the more indirect effects of Trump’s policies on the health of our oldest citizens: dramatically curtailing immigration means cutting off the major source of personal care attendants and nursing aides. These are the people who take care of older individuals who need help bathing, dressing, feeding themselves, walking, and going to the bathroom—both in nursing homes and in their own homes. Deregulation is translating into more polluted air and water, worsening existing conditions such as emphysema and asthma. Rolling back steps to control climate change is contributing to relentless global warming, which is not some abstract future problem but a reality today—and it is frail older people who have suffered disproportionately from hyperthermia and death during the recent heat waves and from the fires that have been ravaging the western US.
The future under Trump would bring new threats to the health of older Americans. The budget that Trump has proposed for 2021 would significantly cut Medicaid, the federal/state program that is the main funder of nursing homes, where 1.4 million dependent older people live. The budget would also cut SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) benefits—the food stamps nd other nutritional support for millions of older adults.
Purely in terms of self-interest, older Americans should be terrified of four more years of Trump. And, as the NY Times argued two years ago, “senior power is the sleeping giant of American politics.” With the latest estimates from the US Department of the Census indicating that the 52 million Americans over age 65 comprise 16.5 percent of the population, gray power is here; it’s time to exercise it.
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