Laura Frost is tired of the rhetoric dominating the political debate. As an AARP volunteer, she goes to meetings across northernWisconsin urging voters to bypass political platitudes and focus on issues.
"When I hear people say that the health care law has to be repealed, I ask them what exactly they want eliminated — closing the doughnut hole? Allowing kids to stay on their parents' insurance until they're 27?" said Frost. "That's when they start stammering."
Frost, 63, of Merrill, lost her human resources job four years ago and speaks from experience. She burned through much of her savings to pay for medication before she could enroll in BadgerCare Plus, a state-financed health care program for low-income adults. Frost is part of an AARP Wisconsin team helping voters educate themselves on where the candidates stand on the issues and programs.
Those elected on Nov. 2 will make decisions that directly affect older residents and their families. Right now, Democrats control the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature, but that could change with the election results. Gov. Jim Doyle isn't seeking reelection, and the entire 99-seat Wisconsin Assembly as well as 17 of the 33 seats in the Wisconsin Senate are up for grabs.
All eight seats in the U.S. House are on the ballot, including that of retiring Democrat David Obey, who is giving up the office he has held since 1969. On the U.S. Senate side, incumbent Democrat Russ Feingold faces tough competition from Republican Ron Johnson.
As voters consider their choices, AARP Wisconsin wants them to press the candidates on three programs that could be at risk for spending cuts. They are: BadgerCare Plus, for low-income adults; SeniorCare, which provides low-cost prescription drugs for low-income residents 65 and older; and FamilyCare, which offers services that allow older people and people with disabilities to keep living in their homes.
As the state faces a budget deficit approaching $3 billion, AARP is urging lawmakers to preserve these programs for the needy.
"Many state residents are just one pink slip away from losing health care," said AARP state director D'Anna Bowman. "These programs protect the most vulnerable residents of Wisconsin."
In an effort to separate the issues from the rhetoric, AARP has compiled voters' guides based on questionnaires sent to candidates for state office, and public statements made by candidates for federal office.
Candidate forums for state and federal candidates are scheduled across Wisconsin. The voters' guides and a schedule of the candidate forums are available online.
AARP volunteers are following candidates on the campaign trail, asking questions to pin them down on the issues.
"This is all about getting candidates to make comments on the record about what they would do, if elected, with the programs that are so vital to the aging population," said Jim Flaherty, AARP state communications director.
Frost became an AARP advocate because she wants others to be spared the devastation she experienced after losing her job and health insurance.
Last summer she finally qualified for BadgerCare Plus, which helps with her diabetes and hypertension.
"Many people don't realize how close they are to being in the position I was in," Frost said. "I'll never be able to recover from the financial loss."
Marie Rohde is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee.
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