Long-term care could become an important issue in some close congressional and gubernatorial races in the November elections, according to a coalition of consumer and provider groups.
The Long Term Care Campaign said it's trying to make nursing home care and home care an issue in 10 statewide races for governor or the U.S. Senate and 40 races for the U.S. House in 15 states.
In the states and districts with close races, the coalition is organizing long-term-care forums and participating in candidates' town meetings, compiling briefing books for candidates on long-term-care issues, and coordinating voter registration and absentee balloting for elderly and disabled voters.
It's the most aggressive the coalition of 142 consumer and provider groups has been in an election, said group Chairman Stephen McConnell, senior vice president for public policy with the Alzheimer's Association. The coalition was founded to put long-term-care issues in the spotlight during the 1988 presidential campaign.
Because of the congressional debate last year on changing the Medicaid program, which funds nearly half of all nursing home care, long-term-care issues could be more prominent in some of the closer election races where the victors could be determined based on individual issues, McConnell said.
GOP balanced-budget legislation in Congress called for converting the federal share of Medicaid to lump-sum "block grants" that would be given to the states with few strings attached. That legislation included a repeal of federal nursing home quality enforcement laws.
"I think for a number of challengers, votes on Medicaid and nursing home standards are going to be some of the more powerful critiques of their opponents," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake.
Lake has convened focus groups on long-term-care issues for the coalition. She found that fears about the cost of long-term care and the impact on families could become a "middle-class grievance" issue in the fall campaign, particularly for Democrats.
McConnell said Republicans, meanwhile, can make the case to voters that by bringing Medicaid spending under control as they sought to do under the block-grant proposal they will ensure services are available.