10/04/2012 07:03 am ET Updated Oct 04, 2012

Why It's Not All About Medicare For Older Americans

When Gov. Mitt Romney told me last night that if I was over 60, I could stop listening, I rejoiced. I heard what I came to hear: For folks like me who have turned that calendar corner, no worries! Nothing on Medicare will be changing! Woo-hoo!

There was just one problem. What about everyone else who hasn't quite turned that calendar page? President Obama was on the money when he countered, "If you are 54 or 55, you just might want to listen."

The one thing the two candidates agreed on, if somewhat begrudgingly, is that when it comes to Medicare, we certainly have a clear choice. Romney would turn the senior health care program into a voucher system and Obama would cut the program by $716 billion. This cut would be accomplished by not overpaying insurers and providers (says Obama) or result in doctors and hospitals into turning away patients (says Romney).

Sigh. Don't you just wish for the simpler, easier days when presidential elections didn't feel so critical? Heck, I remember presidential debates of the past where, with some like-minded friends, I'd sit around the living-room TV set -- it probably had rabbit ears -- and played the debate drinking game. You know, take a swig of booze every time Al Gore sighed in the debate of 2000 or a swallow every time they replayed Lloyd Bentsen telling Dan Quayle “You’re no Jack Kennedy” in 1988.

I stayed sober for Obama-Romney 2012. My rabbit ears and I sat tall in our perches, eager to hear how President Obama and Gov. Romney plan to deal with the issues facing older Americans and there wasn't a lot of drink-worthiness in their answers.

For the record, AARP defines those issues as Social Security and Medicare. To that, I say, "yeah, those too," but first create some jobs for us to retire from and maybe some jobs for our adult-kids-still-living-with-us so they can have a fighting chance at a grown-up life. In a poll released a week ago, seniors told the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation that the economy was more important to them than even Medicare. Why? Because as Bill Clinton so wisely put it, "It's the economy, stupid." (Can I just vote for him?)

While other demographics took the same knockout punch from the recession, people in their 50s and 60s who lost their jobs have fewer work years left to recoup what they lost. They stay jobless longer than anyone else. There are millions of unemployed people who are too young not to work ever again, yet they likely won't if we stay the course. More than 1.9 million of the nation's 12.5 million unemployed are 55 or older. And they pretty much all share the same nightmare: the one where they will never work another day in their lives. But what was said about them last night? Not enough to fill my shot glass, although I was tempted to raise a toast to Obama's plan to hire 100,000 new math and science teachers and create more slots at community colleges.

I also wish we had heard something about ageism -- the business practices that squeeze older workers out of jobs and replace them by younger, lower-paid workers. Or when older workers are regularly discriminated against in the hiring process? What did we hear about ageism and putting some enforcement teeth into the laws against it? Nothing.

Then there were the people whose retirements were derailed. They watched their stock portfolios crash and the equity in their homes evaporate. Years and years of hard work and they now are staring down a gun barrel of uncertainty. Which is, of course, where Social Security and Medicare come into focus. Except they didn't in the debate.

What did I learn? That Donald Trump got tweeted about a lot from both sides.

CORRECTION: A previous headline for this article incorrectly referred to Medicaid. The program under discussion is Medicare.