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."
Welcome to the American Morning blog where you can get daily news updates from American Morning's reporters and producers. Join us for "the most news in the morning," weekdays from 6-9 a.m. ET, only on CNN.