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 American Association of Retired Persons 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.

Shalala said only $90 billion in savings are needed to insure the solvency of Medicare, not the $270 billion the Republicans have proposed.

She ridiculed Republican predictions that recipients would pay just $4 more per month in premiums under their plan.

"Who do they think they're kidding?" she said. She said the GOP plan would remove limits on what doctors and hospitals can charge.

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 convince Republicans that votes for 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. …

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