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Florida Seniors: Key to the White House?

Healthcare--especially the future of Medicare and the ever-rising cost of prescription drugs--has emerged as one of the central issues of Campaign 2000.

As CBS's Byron Pitts reports, the issue has brought to surface clear differences in both policy and emphasis between the major-party candidates.

For Al Gore, winning the White House means wooing millions of aging Americans--shaking their hands, speaking their language.

"I'll bring a prescription drug benefit under the Medicare program," Gore says. "And we'll have new competition to bring the price of prescription drugs down, so that people can afford them and we'll save Medicare."

The democratic candidate is pushing to make healthcare his issue.

"The healthcare system is broken," says Gore. "It needs to be fixed but we shouldn't bite off more than you can chew and try to do it all at once."

The Gore healthcare plan includes:

  • Universal healthcare coverage for all children by 2005.
  • Prescription drug benefits under Medicare.
  • Tax credits for long-term healthcare.

It's a full deck of ideas that play especially well in retirement communities like Century Village in South Florida. Senior citizens today are more health conscious and live longer than any generation before them. They're 35 million strong, and the fastest growing segment of the US population. For many, the golden years are tarnished by high medical bills.

Tina Alexander, age 71, had open-heart surgery two years ago. But it's not her own health she's worried about.

"I have a husband with emphysema. He has used up his quota on prescriptions. So what do you do now? You can pay it and you can do without something, or you just don't have your prescriptions," Alexander says.

In key states like Florida, with its 25 electoral votes and large block of elderly voters, healthcare could be a make-or-break issue.

George W. Bush says he is committed to the issue of healthcare as well.

"I've been talking about healthcare since the primaries about a plan to support the uninsured. I've been talking about Medicare since I got started in the campaign," Bush says.

Bush has proposed tax credits for the uninsured if they buy health insurance, and tax breaks on long-term care.

"One idea is to make sure low, low-income seniors are better helped in paying for prescription drugs," says Bush.

But so far he's been short on specifics, and the Gore campaign believes it has found a weakness.

"Where specifics are concerned, it's kind of put up or shut up time," Gore says.

Seniors citizens in America are listening closely to what the candidates are saying about healthcare. And they want solutions--not just another song and dance.
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