Felicia Mebane

Felicia Mebane

Executive Director of Public Health Initiatives, Norfolk State University

Dissertation Title:  "The Politics of Medicare Policy"

This thesis includes three studies that further illuminate various aspects of a key political determinant of Medicare policy: public opinion.

For the first study, I use data provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation to examine media coverage of Medicare during the 1995 federal budget debates. Using descriptive statistics, I link changes in the level of critical coverage of President Clinton and the Republican leadership to changes in the public's support for their ability to address Medicare's problems. I also use probit regressions to show that coverage of policy-related topics tended to be less critical of these newsmakers. I conclude that policymakers concerned with how the public will receive future efforts to reform Medicare should continually evaluate their coverage and seek ways to focus on policy-related topics.

For the second study, I use a public opinion survey conducted in 1995 and provided by Professor Robert J. Blendon to explore whether or not knowledge of the Medicare program affects preferences for Medicare policy. I reveal that knowledge has small, significant impacts on the likelihood of support for five of six Medicare policy options. I also find large, significant information effects for subsets of the population. Finally, I find that the effect of information varies with the type of information tested. I conclude that educating the public about the Medicare program matters primarily for interest groups that may benefit from activating particular segments of the population.

Finally, participation in the election process is one manifestation of public opinion about campaign issues. For this study, I use American National Election Studies data to compare political participation and mobilization of older and younger Americans in 1996 with the corresponding rates of participation and mobilization in 1988 and 1992. I find that the political environment in 1996 (in which Medicare was a prominent campaign issue) did seem to stimulate different rates of political participation among older Americans. The results were mixed for mobilization efforts. I conclude that this likely link between issues salient for older Americans and political participation will become increasingly important with the aging of the "baby boom" cohort.


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