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Where We Stand: Prime the Pump

I was at a town hall meeting in Maryland recently talking about health and economic security when an AARP member stood up and said, “These issues come up in every election, the candidates talk about them, and nothing gets done. Why will this time be any different?”

Great question. This election will be different only if we make it so, I replied.

Here’s why. First, people are really worried. Many can’t afford health care. Lots of people either don’t have insurance or are underinsured. Some fear losing their coverage if they switch jobs or get laid off.

Many Americans are sweating over their pensions, struggling to save and worried about the future for their children and their aging parents. This is the middle class we’re talking about, and when they get worried and angry—and they are angry—politicians better take note.

Second, corporate America is also worried. Companies large and small have changed their views, especially about health care. Business leaders used to say that they could handle employee health coverage and didn’t need any help from government or anybody else. Now they’re saying that health care costs are making them uncompetitive and that they can’t keep paying the increases or shifting them onto their employees. They want relief.

Finally, the stakes are higher and the problems far worse than ever. The average person feels the economic burn with every stop at the gas station and grocery store and with each mortgage payment. Health costs are far outpacing wages, and the quality of health care delivery is declining. This is about more than just the current economic downturn. These problems have enormous implications for our standard of living well into the future. People want action.

With the elections only about two months away, John McCain and Barack Obama are speaking out about health care and economic security. We have been urging them to say more and to give us their best ideas. AARP and the members of our Divided We Fail coalition (Business Roundtable, Service Employees International Union and National Federation of Independent Business) have been present at virtually every campaign stop and nearly every speech. We’re questioning congressional candidates, too. We’re asking them to clarify their positions and commit to action on these issues. We’re meeting constantly with political leaders to prime the pump for action in the coming administration and the new Congress.

We published hundreds of lawmakers’ names who signed our Divided We Fail pledge to address health and economic security in a bipartisan way.

Our AARP Public Policy Institute’s Solutions Forums are convening experts and policymakers, not just to debate but to go beyond ideological differences to find common ground and practical answers.

If we want this time to be different, we have to make it happen. Every one of us has a role—voting is critical, but it’s only the first step. Then we all have to pitch in, to demand that our elected officials act. We need action, answers and accountability. Things can be different.

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