With the Presidential election looming in November, one study reports that healthcare issues, especially Medicare, are the key issues for America’s older citizens.

Over 40 million people receive Medicare benefits and 10,000 seniors join their ranks every day. As we enter the final stages of the U.S. Presidential campaign, how optimistic are seniors about the future of Medicare, and how important is healthcare in determining whom they will vote for?

Not surprisingly, new research conducted with 560 seniors (using a Survey Sampling International online sample) shows that healthcare is a key issue for seniors when deciding whom they will vote for in November. But they don’t feel familiar with both candidates’ positions; they are generally pessimistic about the outlook for Medicare, and they will be making their opinions heard at the ballot box. Of those seniors in the study, 74% said they were registered to vote, with 42% registered Democrat and 48% Republican.

It is important to note that this survey was conducted online. While 53% of seniors overall are online as of June 2012 (according to data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project), only 34% of seniors aged 75-plus are online. So, perhaps we are hearing from the more informed elderly in this category.

Seniors who indicated that healthcare policy is their “number one concern” when determining which candidate they will vote for in November are worried about the future of Medicare more than any other issue: 93% of them say they are at least somewhat worried about Medicare, with 48% expressing “extreme” worry, and 20% saying they are very worried about Medicare’s future. As we would expect, healthcare is prominent on the campaign websites of both President Obama (www.barackobama.com) and Governor Romney (www.mittromney.com), and and Romney’s website breaks out Medicare as a separate topic in its own right.

Since healthcare is so important to seniors, it is interesting that more than half of the respondents to this study say they are not familiar with Romney’s position on healthcare. Unless they lived in Massachusetts when Romney was Governor from 2003-07—or have lived there since he left office—seniors haven’t experienced Romney’s healthcare policies. Perhaps the recent judgment by the Supreme Court on President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is responsible for opening up an even greater knowledge gap between Obama’s and Romney’s positions.

Of seniors who indicated that healthcare policy was in some way important to them when determining which candidate they would vote for in November:

75% are extremely familiar with Obama’s position on healthcare reform; only 43% are extremely familiar with Romney’s position.

A mere 8% are not at all familiar with Obama’s position on healthcare reform, while over half, 51%, are not at all familiar with Romney’s position.

When it comes to sources of learning and information on healthcare, the study found that those who are used to getting their general news and current events information from online sources are also more likely to use those sources to get healthcare information.

Finally, we see a strong contrast between concern by this population over what might happen and contentment with the current reality of healthcare services. Seniors participating in this study are positive about the healthcare services they receive today, compared to those they received five years ago, as 54% of respondents say the services haven’t changed, 28% say their healthcare services are somewhat or much better, while only 17% say they are somewhat or much worse.

Healthcare clearly elicits complex reactions from this key voting group. But probably the most important statistic of all to candidates thinking about how to communicate their plan to seniors is this: Only 4% of the participants said they did not plan to cast a vote in November.

  • Ryan Hopper

    Ryan Hopper is Director, Healthcare Sales, Survey Sampling International (SSI). He has more than 10 years of sales and client service experience in the marketing industry and has been in the healthcare market research industry since 2006, on both the sales and operations sides of the business.

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