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January 6th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

Lobbying for Your Health: 150,000 seniors in revolt

Editor's Note: Lobbyists have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to influence the health care debate in this country. By some counts, there were six health care lobbyists for every member of Congress. In part three of the American Morning original series, "Lobbying for Your Health," Carol Costello looks at the AARP's contentious role in the debate.

By Bob Ruff and Carol Costello

November 5, 2009. That's the day the AARP endorsed the House health care bill. With nearly 40 million members, it's not surprising that the president quickly came before cameras in the White House to thank the AARP for its endorsement.

That AARP endorsement wasn't universally applauded by all of the organization's millions of members. The organization admits it has lost 150,000 members since the endorsement but says that's been offset by more than 2-million new or renewed memberships.

Some, like Robert Tice, feel the AARP is out of touch with its members by focusing so much on selling insurance. He says he will let his AARP membership lapse without renewal because he doesn't like what they're up to.

"The letters don't mean American Association of Retired Persons," he told CNN's Carol Costello. "It just means AARP. It's just a name. ... The AARP is about insurance. People need to know that. AARP is not out there to help you."

In fact, the AARP brands several types of insurance, including health policies with United Healthcare. By endorsing so many insurance policies the organization brought in around $650 million dollars last year in premiums. That's almost three times what it took in from membership dues.

Republicans say the AARP's endorsement of the House health bill is more about supporting its insurance business than anything else. They point to the organization's acquiescence to billions of dollars in cuts to the Medicare Advantage Plans, which AARP and other insurers offer as private alternatives to Medicare that often includes extra medical coverage like dental and vision care.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, some suggested cuts in the program might make it so unattractive that millions of Americans could be forced out because the plan's benefits would shrink. It is also possible that some insurance companies would stop offering Medicare Advantage policies altogether because it would be far less profitable.

So, why would the AARP support cuts to Medicare Advantage? Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) thinks he knows what the AARP is up to. Gingrey says the organization hopes that millions of seniors will move from Medicare Advantage to AARP's branded Medigap plan, which has far higher profit margins.

"The fewer people, seniors, that are on Medicare Advantage and back into Medicare fee for service (Medigap)," Gingrey says, "the more opportunity AARP has to get royalty from the sale of Medigap policies." The AARP, says Gingrey, is the market leader in selling Medigap policies.

Carol Costello asked the AARP if any of this is true. The AARP's director of legislative policy, David Certner, says "it's not an issue we have lobbied on at all."

Certner says his organization supported cuts to Medicare Advantage to "trim the fat" so Medicare itself survives. "We understand there are financial issues with Medicare, and we need to save money for the Medicare program."

He adds that the AARP has fought to make sure the health care bill closes the gap in Medicare drug coverage, known as the "donut hole," an important issue for many seniors. But Robert Tice isn't convinced that the AARP won't put making profits ahead of its members.

"The AARP has a moral responsibility," he says, "to be more clear that they are an insurance broker primarily, and that's where they make the majority of their money."


Filed under: Lobbying for Your Health • Politics
soundoff (835 Responses)
  1. David Epstein

    AARP is recommending various other forms of insurance that are over-priced and it fails to counsel its members that such policies are not good investments for many members. ARRP needs greater transparency, including executive compensation of all types.

    January 26, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  2. Robert Fessler

    It's not how many people who dropped AARP membership that is impressive. 150,000 is not that many in the whole scheme of things. What will really affect them are the millions of people like me that will never ever join the organization.

    January 25, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
  3. D.G.

    Its a good thing we are not a Christian Nation...if we were, God would destroy us for the sinners that we are. I mean what god would approve healthcare to the rich and death to the poor?

    January 13, 2010 at 12:23 am |
  4. Paula

    Yes, I wish that CSPAN covered the conference negotiation of the bills.
    Do I think that Republicans would use the same delaying tactics that were used in the Senate on the way to its version of the bill? Of course.
    Is the writing of legislation by only majority members of Congress and delivery of legislation to minority members of Congress in the middle of the night something new? Of course not.

    For example:
    "Few, if any, congressmen even saw the measure before it was passed by Congress. Sharing his frustration with the passage of the Patriot Act, Congressman Ron Paul told Insight magazine at the time, "It's my understanding the bill wasn't printed before the vote–at least I couldn't get it." Paul went on to say that only a handful of congressional staffers actually read the legislation and that it was not available to members of Congress prior to the floor votes.

    The final version of the Patriot Act passed in the House on October 24, 2001, and the Senate passed it on October 25. President Bush then signed the legislation into law the very next day. The Patriot Act had a five-year sunset provision attached to the original bill. It was renewed in 2006 after slight modifications. Though modified slightly, the Patriot Act still poses a huge threat to the privacy of every American citizen.
    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Slipping+through+legislation:+all+too+often+members+of+Congress+use...-a0169636058

    And let's revisit the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug bill and its effect on the deficit:
    "Just to be clear, the Medicare drug benefit was a pure giveaway with a gross cost greater than either the House or Senate health reform bills how being considered. Together the new bills would cost roughly $900 billion over the next 10 years, while Medicare Part D will cost $1 trillion.

    Moreover, there is a critical distinction–the drug benefit had no dedicated financing, no offsets and no revenue-raisers; 100% of the cost simply added to the federal budget deficit, whereas the health reform measures now being debated will be paid for with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, adding nothing to the deficit over the next 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. (See here for the Senate bill estimate and here for the House bill.)

    Maybe Franks isn't the worst hypocrite I've ever come across in Washington, but he's got to be in the top 10 because he apparently thinks the unfunded drug benefit, which added $15.5 trillion (in present value terms) to our nation's indebtedness, according to Medicare's trustees, was worth sacrificing his integrity to enact into law. But legislation expanding health coverage to the uninsured–which is deficit-neutral–somehow or other adds an unacceptable debt burden to future generations. We truly live in a world only George Orwell could comprehend when our elected representatives so easily conflate one with the other."
    http://www.forbes.com/2009/11/19/republican-budget-hypocrisy-health-care-opinions-columnists-bruce-bartlett_print.html

    January 11, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  5. thetravelingsuper

    I agree with Mr. Tice about AARP. I dropped out when they supported the Bush prescription plan for the same reason. AARP provides little to no benefits to seniors. They have turned out to be nothing but a money scam. Pick up an AARP magazine some time and read all of the articles for the rich retirees. Over 80 percent of retirees depend heavily on their social security checks. So, with that said, it is pretty apparent that not too many seniors are well off. But, AARP caters to the top 20 percent of retirees with all the money. If AARP really feels that they have a moral obligation then they should start addressing the problems of the majority of seniors. But they like our government only want to cater to the rich and to hell with the masses.

    January 8, 2010 at 3:33 am |
  6. larryl23

    ARRP is fine by me. We need national healthcare reform. Every major country in the world has it. We have millions of people with no health insurance or inadequate health insurance. Democrats are correct in
    this area.
    Foolish republicans only care about insurance company profits not us people on main street.

    January 7, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  7. Chris

    I am shopping for an alternative to AARP to which I have belonged to for years – now I'm disgusted because they are not looking out for the people that have kept them business all these year.

    January 7, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  8. Timmy Johnson

    AARP is garbage. OBAMA is garbage. DUMBOCRATS are garbage.

    I am sick and tired of having to pay for eveyone else. I paid enough in income taxes this year that I could have bought a luxury car for cash money. Why should my tax burden go uop further to help pay for all of this crap for lower level people??? All of this "free" stuff sounds nice to those who do not have to pay for it. The reality is that nothing is free and the fress stuff ends up costing people like me lots of cash. You cannot keep tapping into the fruits of the labor of those like me who actually CONTRIBUTE to society instead of leach off of it.

    January 7, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  9. James

    AARP is owned by one man, a hollywood liberal, his organization only wants your money, the discounts he offers are only a joke, just look who is on the cover of the magazines all the time, surely not one conservative.I'am going with the new group "50"....., who really surports the seniors who are the backbone of this country.....

    January 7, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  10. Rusty

    Just another front for the insurance industry. Not interested in the welfare of people just their bottom-line.

    January 7, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  11. Bandt

    To everyone over 50 years old,

    This is the world that YOU made. It was, and, to a large extent, is, the influence of your generations that have brought about what you see today. You have deferred so many hard decisions, heaping them on your children and your grandchildren. Stop complaining about our attempts to dig ourselves out of your hole. Stop complaining about the deficit – you won't be paying it off, we will be picking up the tab.

    How do you think we feel paying social security when we know we will not see a dime of that money back when we retire? How do you think we will possibly be able to afford health care when we retire if it continues as it does now? We need to do SOMETHING! Also, consider that there the AARP has to provide for its future members, not just its current ones. It must plan for the longterm, something that most of you seem to have never grasped.

    The selfish generation is no longer in charge. I understand that you are upset about it. I would be too. But, I think I would certainly whine about it a lot less.

    Brandt, 30 y/o

    January 7, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  12. Mark in Boston

    She is absolutely correct. AARP lost only 150,000 in cancelled memberships but how about the hundreds of thousands that will simply let their membership lapse? i.e. They will NOT re-enroll. Two of those are my wife and I.
    There are also a number of other insurance carriers that offer Gap Insurance at very competitive rates. When I renew, I will also move to another Insurance carrier. That's all AARP is today; an insurance company, just like all the rest. They have fat cat execs running the business, with huge salaries and benefits. They have paid lobbyists working for them full time. And finally, they endorsed ObamaCare because they have a sweetheart deal to continue offering the VER PROFITABLE MediGap insurance. You can bet you last buck that the legislation will include SPECIFIC language to guarantee it!

    January 7, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  13. Kiki

    AARP is just a big business who wants to make more money. These greedy bums are just as bad as the obama administration pushing for their health care bill which the majority of the American don't want. Why can't these clowns listen to us? They're ramming this bill down our throats because they want it, not us. We need to vote all these bums out of office!

    January 7, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  14. Pete in AZ

    AARP is just another Insurance lobbing group masquerading as a protector of Seniors. The only question I have is "Would Jesus embrace MONEY CHANGERS in the process of curing people? Remember that Jesus didn't ask how much money a person had before helping them.

    January 7, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  15. Kay Powell

    People, pay attention!! AARP has ALWAYS been about consumerism and the bottom line!! Where have you been? -ksp-pensacola fl-

    January 7, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  16. Ron Lewis

    Noticed that a couple of people here don't know how to recognize BS.

    AARP has not signed up 2 million new members since November. They stated that there were 2 million "new and renewed" members. It's a bogus number. If members renew annually, they would easily have that many renewals.

    The real number, which they intentionally don't tell us, is how many new members versus how many quit.

    And even that could provide a false positive since the majority of their members are signing up for insurance products and not in support of AARP's lobbying philosophy.

    Survey the new members to find out how many support the lobbying (there will be a large "undecided" number of apathetics), then survey those who quit. The net result will, I expect, show that, of those AARP members who have an opinion about their lobbying efforts, most disapprove.

    January 7, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  17. Rick Cain

    Its a telling thing when Americans don't mind a blank check policy of spending when it comes time to get involved in wars of choice overseas, but suddenly become fiscally conservative when it comes time to reform their health care system that they know is broken.

    No wonder the europeans think we're crazy.

    January 7, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  18. time

    If CNN's ratings are down, how come there are so many more posts for this article then are made on FOX all day. Is that because FOX does not have as many viewers, who can read and write?

    January 7, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  19. Cathy

    Thanks Paula & Tony, probably most of the 150,000 people that left AARP because of there support for health care reform, are getting goverment run social security and goverment run medicare, lol.

    January 7, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  20. Stephen Pitts

    AARP is out for thr money only, they have no intrest in the american
    people. Money is the driven factor, and this shows just that fact.

    Write to them and tell them how you feel about taking money from people on a fixed income. We need all the money we get each month
    to live. Thanks

    January 7, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  21. Tony Tabiello

    AARP has advocated changes throughout many years which if enacted would result in the loss of income from their sales of products to their members – they have supported importation of Rx drugs when part of their income came from selling Rx, AARP supported restricting many practices of Medicare Supplemental insurance despite, again, a potential loss of income, they support the current health insurnace reform bill, even through the insurance industry opposes it. Thank goodness for AARP. I doubt this will stop the government haters on this website from trying to tear down AARP, which actually has a domestic policy other than "eliminate government". Their hateful comments are always good for a laugh.

    January 7, 2010 at 7:18 am |
  22. Paula

    My goodness .... quoting Dick Morris (expertise on health care in general and medicare in particular : zilch) and spouting terms intended to be derogatory such as Obamacare, socialism and Democratic terrorism are clear indications of the outlets on which many of you depend for information.

    Instead of listening to partisans, I suggest that you indulge directly in some non-partisan reading.
    Here is a summary and comparison of the two bills being discussed in conference now. It is from the Kaiser Family Foundation: (You can use the search feature to read what interests you. You can also find both bills in their entirety elsewhere on the website.)
    http://www.kff.org/healthreform/upload/housesenatebill_final.pdf

    Then, you might expand your horizons further by taking a look at the Medicare Advocacy website. Who are they? Here is their mission: The Center for Medicare Advocacy works to advance fair access to comprehensive Medicare coverage and quality health care for older people and people with disabilities by providing the highest quality analysis, education and advocacy.
    And here is their website:
    http://www.medicareadvocacy.org/

    If you object to the cost of the bills and/or believe that the promise of deficit neutrality is based on broad, untested assumptions, I would invite you to (1) contemplate the demise/bankruptcy of medicare in 2017 if we do nothing and (2) entreat your congressional representatives to ensure there will be tight oversight, with ongoing audits and action plans to track and correct areas in which reality does not meet assumptions made.

    January 7, 2010 at 4:06 am |
  23. mh

    2 mill new and renewed memberships! Is that like saved or created jobs? The AARP is nothing but a liberal sham!!

    January 7, 2010 at 3:16 am |
  24. shmo

    My mom gets all sort of adverts from them. She rips them up and sends them back in the free envelope provided. I suggest we all do the same! :)

    January 7, 2010 at 12:49 am |
  25. slen

    Harold & Rufus-You two are a perfect example of American Idiots! Rufus when Social Security was created the seniors in America were amongst the poorest people in the country. Today the seniors in America are the richest. Both of my parents worked regular jobs and now retired they make more money then when they worked. Do you realize that over 30% of SS recipients make over $50,000.00 a year without SS?! About 50% of SS recipients make over $30,000.00 a year without their SS. Social Security needs to be changed if it’s going to survive. Harold if you worked for 40 years and paid into SS the whole time, how long until you get it all back with interest? Would you believe 3 to 4 years? It’s true. The average age of seniors has climbed almost 20 years since 1935. So most recipients are getting free $ for about 15 years or more. With fewer people paying into SS and the Gov giving SS to foreign immigrants, well you do the math. Its attitudes like yours that ruin the country. I hope your children realize what an Ass they have as a father and remember that when they put you in the Old Folks Home!

    January 7, 2010 at 12:09 am |
  26. KC

    If you have employer-sponsored insurance, thank your lucky stars.

    The business I work with is too small to get a guaranteed policy; we have to pass individual underwriting. Most of us have pre-existing conditions, all are over 40, we are thankful we have any insurance at all. One pays over $700 a month for one person, and it doesn't cover everything she needs.

    Bigger companies don't want to hire us because of our age and/or health problems, so don't tell us to go get a job that includes insurance, because we've all tried and been repeatedly rejected.

    We are not asking for something for nothing, we are simply asking for the same policy at the same price that everyone else has. We're willing to pay a reasonable price, but either the companies don't want to sell us insurance or want us to pay a substantial percentage of our income - in the case of our oldest member, more than 100% of total income!!!!! Obviously, he has other living expenses and can't pay out more than he earns, so here's someone who's worked since he was 14 and is uninsured, not because he's too lazy to work but because he's old and diabetic.

    January 6, 2010 at 11:47 pm |
  27. poor person

    The wing nuts need to find their own country and stop trying to ruin this one. I have no better proof than the last 8 years of tax cuts and spend. They could not even properly fund the VA. Why do you not get a grip and try caring about someone else but yourself. I would love to see the wing nuts tell the real truth just once, I do not think they know how. They survive on creating fear and lies (death camps). That is pretty sad if you ask me. Just once can one of you think for yourself and not mouth the idiots at Fox. The Fox Network are a bunch of hypocrite, drugees, and drunks. AARP is a nonprofit that needs to fund their operations. I do not think Bank America funds itself on $5.00 dues. They fund themselves on ripping people off on their credit card operation.

    January 6, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
  28. OldToot

    Not surprised AARP endoresed but certainly very disappointed. I dropped em and told not to send me anything else. Could it be that the chicago-way obamanation bunch of acorn nuts did some major under the cover arm twisting? How do you think AARP knows who you are and where you live and when you turn 50? Remember all those emails start bombarding you around when you turn 50...how do they know all that? Endorse the demo's health care plan or the government info spigot will shut off! Think, people...AARP may just be a big over-grown pawn sucking up to the new entitlement-oriented achievement-hating power-hungry left-brained spineless obamanation administration. AARP may have received an offer they couldn't refuse...somebody should investigate the whole bunch of these Obama-led shakedown pimps and AARP croonies! Yes...drop AARP...until they clean up their org and get rid of the wacko fringe lefteys now in charge.

    January 6, 2010 at 10:45 pm |
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