Monday, February 18, 2008

Opinion polls have shown exhaustively over the years that voters trust Democrats over Republicans to fix the nation’s health care crisis, and by very wide margins. However, a recent survey conducted by Gary Andres and Dutko Research (whose American Survey is printed at length in an Op-Ed on the adjacent page) shows an unusual trend: Among the senior-citizen demographic, that gap is closing. In fact, “prior to 2003,” Mr. Andres writes, “Republicans consistently lagged among seniors on the question of which party could better handle the issue of health care.” In his poll, taken in January, he shows that, among those 65 and older, the GOP came in only three points behind the Democrats — practically a tie compared to previous polls in which conservatives trailed by double-digit margins.

The obvious question, which Mr. Andres notes, is whether Republican support for the Medicare prescription-drug program (Medicare Part D) has been the reason for the improved trust among seniors. The other possibility for the surge in Republican popularity is discouragement over the ability of Democrats to make meaningful changes, especially while in the majority in Congress. Their attempts to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) were struck down by presidential vetoes and intraparty squabbling. But the more important question could be: In the face of rising health care costs, will support for the Medicare Part D program help or hurt Republicans in the long run?

If it is, indeed, Republican support of the prescription-drug plan that has won over so much support from the senior-citizen demographic, it will be interesting to see how presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s opposition to the program influences voters and future faith in the party’s ability to handle the health care crisis. In 2003, Mr. McCain was one of only nine Republicans to vote against the Medicare Part D prescription drug program.

It is possible that, as medical care costs rise — along with the cost to the taxpayer — the prescription drug program’s popularity will decline. It will become more complicated, and more necessary, for conservative lawmakers to find creative and cost-effective ways to reform health care, other than expanding the reach of the government.

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