Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gephardt to Elderly Group: `You Need to Speak Out'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gephardt to Elderly Group: `You Need to Speak Out'

Article excerpt

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt and Health Secretary Donna Shalala took their Medicare campaign to Florida on Tuesday, pleading with older people to pressure Congress to reject the Republicans' proposed changes.

"This fight is your fight," Gephardt, D-Mo., told an enthusiastic crowd of about 800 elderly voters. "You need to speak out," he said, urging the audience to pepper Washington with calls and letters before the House votes on the issue next week.

"You should be part of this debate," he said. "Write them. Call them. Tell them what you think."

But so far, older people in Florida have not mobilized in great numbers in the emotional outpouring that Gephardt and other Democrats have been seeking for months.

"There's a lot of complacency," said Mel Silverstein, a resident of Century Village, the heavily Democratic condominium complex near Fort Lauderdale where Gephardt and Shalala spoke. "Nobody's really fired them up."

Democrats say that's because it wasn't until this week that the details of the Republican plan became known, and because organizations for older people like the AARP until recently remained on the sidelines.

Republicans argue that older people are heeding their message that Medicare growth must be cut back to save the program.

Gephardt got the biggest cheers when he said older people should not be forced into managed care and lose their choice of doctors. That's one of the greatest fears among the elderly, who worry that although the Republican plan allows them to stay in Medicare, it will be too expensive to do so.

Democrats hope to use the trip and the rallies to persuade Republicans that votes for e heavy Medicare reductions might endanger their political futures.

As yet, their message doesn't seem to have resonated, even in places like Century Village, where many residents are transplanted from traditional Democratic bastions of the Northeast. Most are concerned, but few are enraged.

Harriett Drachman, a member of the Democratic club in a similar complex in nearby Deerfield Beach, Fla., said Medicare isn't a hot topic of conversation.

"I don't hear any talk at all about it, strange as it may seem," she said.

"They figure everything is going to continue just as is. This is amazing, isn't it?"

Amedeo "Trinchi" Trinchitella, a w Democratic activist in the area, is planning a rally Oct. 22 in Deerfield Beach to protest against the Republican plans for Medicare.

He's upset that organizations like the American Association of Retired Persons haven't been more active. "That's why we're doing it ourselves," he said.

`Needy. . .To The Greedy'

He concedes that the Democratic message hasn't stirred the anger he thinks it should. On a scale of 1-10, he said, the level of discontent is "about a 5 . . . that's why we're holding these rallies. The outrage is mounting. …

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