Widespread ignorance about the new Medicare prescription drug benefit will spawn plenty of sound-bite opportunities for Republicans and Democrats this election year, but the more senior citizens know about the new law, the less they like it, according to a new telephone survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
While about two out of three seniors who responded to the Kaiser poll released today say they closely followed the congressional debate about the legislation, only 15% said they understood it very well, and 68% say they didn't know it had passed and is now law. (President Bush signed the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 on Dec. 8, 2003.)
"The lack of understanding of the prescription drug law makes it ripe for political demagoguery on both sides as we enter the election season," said Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman in a statement released with the report. "The President will say he delivered a good prescription drug law and the Democratic candidate will say it's a bad law. How are seniors to judge?
"The complex nature of the law, with all its nooks and crannies and winners and losers, makes the public education challenge much harder," Altman says. "It will take customized one-on-one assistance to really give beneficiaries meaningful help."
Some disquieting numbers for Republicans were generated by seniors who said they knew the law had passed. Of them, 73% said their impression of the law was unfavorable, compared with a 46% unfavorable rating from those who didn't know about its passage. And seniors who said they knew the law had passed also were more likely to say they were registered to vote and were more likely to vote than seniors as a whole.
Princeton Survey Research Associates International conducted the survey between Feb. 5 and Feb. 6, using a national random sample of 1,201 adults ages 18 and over, including 237 adults ages 65 and older.
The margin of sampling error for respondents ages 65 and older is plus or minus 6.7 percentage points, the foundation says.