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Health Care Decided Many House Races in Midterm Elections

Older Americans cast the majority of votes in contests across the country

spinner image People voting in the midterm election
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

In elections that featured unusually large turnouts for a midterm, Democrats captured the U.S. House of Representatives, a result that makes it likely that Medicare and Social Security will be protected against budget cuts. At the same time, Republicans solidified their control of the U.S. Senate, delivering a split decision in this hotly contested political year.

When the 116th Congress convenes in January, there will be at least 220 Democrats and 196 Republicans in the House. As of Wednesday afternoon, 19 House seats remained too close to call. In the Senate, the GOP will have at least 51 seats and the Democrats 46. Florida and Arizona were still too close to call on the day after the election and voters in Mississippi will decide their new senator in a runoff election on Nov. 27.

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In poll after poll before the election, health care was a top concern of the electorate. Likely voters especially expressed concerns about protecting the ability of people with preexisting conditions to get health care, worries that older people would be subject to higher health premiums because of their age and that prescription drug prices would continue to skyrocket unchecked. And in a number of battleground state and individual House election surveys, older voters clearly expressed their support for other issues that AARP fights for every day, including preserving Social Security.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is poised to become Speaker of the House for the second time, pledged in her victory remarks early Wednesday morning to protect any assault on Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. She also promised that the new House would work to “lower the cost of health care by lowering the cost of prescription drugs,” by passing legislation to “negotiate down the price control cost of prescription drugs that is burdening seniors and families across America.”

John Hishta, AARP senior vice president for campaigns, says he hopes leaders on both sides of the aisle will follow Pelosi’s lead on this issue. “Everybody has been talking about lowering the costs of prescription drugs,” Hishta says. “Maybe now we’ll actually do it.”

Democrats also made gains in state contests across the country, picking up seven gubernatorial seats. Republicans will control at least 25 governorships in 2019 with Democrats in power in at least 22 states. Three contests — Georgia, Alaska and Connecticut — had not been decided as of Wednesday.

Tuesday’s turnout estimates confirmed that the 50-plus electorate decided the midterm elections. According to Election Day estimates, 114 million Americans voted Tuesday compared to 83 million who cast ballots in the last midterms in 2014. And, according to AP Votecast , 56 percent of all this year’s votes were cast by citizens over 50. According to the AP, voters between ages 50 and 64 accounted for 30 percent of the ballots and those over age 65 represented 26 percent of all votes cast.

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“Again, this is an election that showed that the 50-plus population is the dominant part of the electorate and plays an outsize role, particularly in the midterms,” Hishta says, “and it showed up again yesterday.”

In the final days of the 2018 campaign, concerns over the ability of people with preexisting conditions to get quality and affordable health care were brought up in virtually every debate and featured in ads and election literature across the country. Candidates in both parties stressed their support for such protections.

“At the end of the day, everybody I think on both sides wants lower prescription drug costs, wants health care that’s affordable and available for all, wants to make sure Medicare and Social Security are protected,” Hishta says. “We can all hope to be optimists and that our leaders on both sides of the aisle will appeal to their own better angels to find a way to come together to solve some of these issues that voters care about, particularly older voters.”

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