Will the AARP Fight for Seniors or Itself?

AARPHouse Speaker Paul Ryan’s proposal to essentially privatize Medicare to cut costs is causing fear among older Americans who rely upon Medicare for health coverage.

Who is fighting to  protect the interests of older Americans?

Today, the AARP’s web site features the “Ultimate Super Bowl Quiz,” hot travel deals, and suggestions about what movies to watch this weekend. Toward the bottom of the page, there are two links, “AARP on the Front Lines Defending Medicare,” and “Tell Congress to Protect Medicare.”

The AARP has a complicated relationship with Medicare. It is the nation’s largest purveyor of supplemental Medi-gap health insurance, reaping literally billions each year in profits from seniors who are essentially forced to purchase catastrophic coverage to stave off health-induced financial disaster. One reason that seniors must purchase Medi-gap insurance in the first place is the AARP.

The AARP has a major conflict of interest with respect to Medicare.

The AARP was sharply criticized several years ago as selling out older Americans when it supported Obamacare, which cut $716 billion from Medicare to pay for its $1.9 trillion expansion of coverage to low-income Americans. Not coincidentally, the AARP obtained the equivalent of a waiver in the new law when Obama abandoned reforms that would have saved seniors hundreds of dollars in Medi-gap premiums a year.

Clearly, the AARP is not a disinterested party in the debate over the future of Medicare but it is, unfortunately, the elephant in the room by virtue of its 38 million members, many of whom joined to take advantage of AARP licensing deals that purportedly give members a small discount on hotels, car rentals, etc.

On its web site, the AARP states reassuringly that it has launched a “national campaign to fight proposals to turn Medicare into a voucher system.” But what does that really mean? No vouchers unless the AARP gets its cut?

Laura Polacheck, the communications director of the AARP Utah, on Feb. 1 issued a press release condemning  House Speaker Paul Ryan’s proposal to privatize the government-run health program for people with disabilities and those aged 65 and older. Polacheck says AARP staff and volunteers will remind members of Congress that Ryan’s proposal would put more than 300,000 Utah seniors’ benefits at risk, as well as the benefits of over 400,000 workers who are set to transition to Medicare over the next 15 years.

That’s all fine and good but older Americans would be wise to demand transparency from the AARP. What does the AARP have to gain and what do older Americans have to lose?

After an investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy, the AARP last year was pressured into dropping its membership in the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization affiliated with the Koch brothers that drafts and promotes bills that would undermine and privatize Social Security and Medicare. The AARP, a “trustee level” sponsor of ALEC’s 2016 annual meeting, claimed it was merely taking advantage of ” an opportunity to engage with state legislators and advance our members’ priorities.”

I have long bemoaned the absence of a true advocacy group for older America, such as the DaneAge Association in Denmark.

The AARP has done virtually nothing for 50 years to combat the legal inequality of older Americans in the workplace. Apparently, the AARP has no marketing incentive to pay more than lip service to this issue.

DaneAge is an independent, non-profit national membership organization founded in 1986 to provide advocacy “through an ongoing dialogue with the government and the public, promoting a society without age barriers and ageism.”  DaneAge has 690,000 members in 217 local chapters across Denmark, including 15,775 volunteers who engage in local advocacy. Among other things, the organization, which has approximately 100 staff members,  provides “free-of-charge and impartial legal advice and counsel” by lawyers and other professionals.

Denmark is widely regarded as having the highest quality of life  for its citizens in the world.

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Author: pgb

Attorney at Law, author and blogger.

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