Date: October 1st, 2004
Americans' choice for president in 2004 will have a direct impact on the lives of seniors. The policies that surround this year's campaign issues will determine whether retirees can afford health care and have enough money to live on. They will shape how we are cared for in the future by funding - and providing guidelines for - research into defeating the diseases that shorten and degrade our lives.
With so much at stake, this is no year to sit on the sidelines. Show up at the polls on November 2. Following are a few of the issues your vote will affect.
The National Institutes of Health is the country's primary federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research. NIH funds researchers at universities, medical schools, and other research institutions, in addition to conducting research at its own facilities. Work supported by NIH has changed the way scientists studied diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's Disease, and Alzheimer's Disease.
NIH is funded as part of the federal budget. The agency traditionally enjoys broad bipartisan commitment to funding it generously. In 2003, the White House proposed a much more modest increase in the NIH budget, citing competing priorities. Critics of this move contend that compromises should be made elsewhere in the budget.
Stem Cell Research
Stem cells develop at the beginning of the human embryonic stage and go on to create all the tissues that make up a body. In laboratories, these cells can be manipulated to develop into any type of tissue.
Some researchers think stem cells may hold promise for reversing the symptoms of - or even curing - a variety of diseases by replacing a patient's diseased cells with healthy ones. Currently, the federal government funds research only on stem cell colonies that existed before August 9, 2001, the date when President Bush announced his decision to allow this limited funding. Opponents of this policy feel that it drastically limits the resources available to scientists, and propose that the government fund research on new stem cell lines as well. Others continue to question the ethical implications of research that involves harvesting cells from human embryos, which ultimately are destroyed in the process.
Because the Social Security taxes paid by today's workers are used to pay benefits to today's recipients, America's shifting population is creating a significant strain on the system. Nearly two-thirds of older Americans receive over half of their income from Social Security. For a third of Social Security recipients, the program provides almost all of their income. Fundamental changes must be made to the system to make sure it stays solvent and to provide future generations with the same level of financial security.
Advocates have proposed raising Social Security taxes, reducing benefits and increasing retirement age, setting up personal voluntary savings accounts, and investing Social Security reserves. Each potential solution comes with its own set of tradeoffs in risks and benefits.
Controversy over the new Medicare law, expensive prescription drugs, and increased premiums are among the issues facing Medicare recipients this year. Advocates have called for reform to expand coverage and reduce the out-of-pocket expenses for people enrolled in the program.
The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 provides prescription drug coverage and expands benefits to include preventive care. However, the law's critics contend that it is leading to privatization of the program - a move they oppose - and ends up costing enrollees even more.
Medicare beneficiaries will also be faced with an automatic premium increase - determined by a formula established in a 1997 deficit-reduction bill - in 2005. Some advocates are proposing that legislators roll back this increase.
To find out where the presidential candidates stand on these and other issues important to older Americans, visit their web sites: