AARP Comments on Washington Post Rehashed Attack

AARP advocates on behalf of its members and all older Americans with the sole mission of helping those 50 and older to live their best lives. Advocating for older Americans in Congress and state legislatures, AARP fights for legislation that protects the interests of Americans age 50-plus. AARP also advocates for older Americans in the marketplace, encouraging products and services that better serve their needs.

AARP did its best to work with The Washington Post in reporting today’s story. The statement below was provided to The Washington Post along with extensive other materials, including ample evidence that AARP did not singularly oppose the Medigap reforms referenced in last year’s deficit reduction talks – we were joined by consumer groups and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. AARP also offered Rob Romasco, AARP President, for interview, but that interview offer was declined.

We are disappointed in a rehashed attack that detracts from the important issues at hand. Most importantly, we’re disappointed that the Post failed to ask the most important question: How would these policies affect the health and economic security of older Americans?

AARP remains focused on the conversation that needs to be had about strengthening Social Security and Medicare for today’s retirees, their children, grandchildren and future generations, rather than simply shifting costs to seniors as part of a rushed end of the year budget deal.

Statement from AARP to The Washington Post:

For more than 50 years, AARP has been singularly driven in our work to improve the lives of our members and all older Americans. AARP’s all volunteer 25-member National Policy Council and 22-member Board of Directors make policy decisions for the Association. These individuals represent almost every walk of life imaginable – academics, advocates, businesspeople, medical professionals, Democrats, Republicans and independents. And they stand to gain nothing from AARP’s financial success or failure. They are motivated by nothing more than a heartfelt desire to ensure that every American can age with dignity. AARP does not calculate or consider any potential financial “impact” of policy options on AARP because they are not relevant to our policy decision-making process.

AARP has lobbied for and against different Medicare reform proposals, including Medigap proposals, throughout our history. Your question refers to AARP “lobby[ing] against Medigap reforms, as it did last year, because one of the types of reform discussed last year would lower premiums for seniors.” AARP supports additional options for seniors that offer lower premiums in return for higher cost-sharing. Indeed, such plans exist today. However, AARP did oppose a budget-driven effort to shift additional costs onto seniors. Specifically, AARP opposed the elimination of current options that offer low-cost sharing (e.g., plans with first dollar coverage) and other alternatives that would increase the cost of such plans for older Americans by imposing additional premiums or taxes for beneficiaries choosing such plans. We oppose elimination or added costs for such options because we know that our members like the certainty and cost stability that these policies provide. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and numerous other consumer groups joined us in opposing such reform. The NAIC has its own working group and has produced reports on the issue – which were shared with the reporter – addressing concerns and uncertainties about such reform.

AARP believes seniors should continue to have Medigap options that offer different premium levels and different coverage and cost-sharing; someone may choose a policy offering first dollar coverage while someone else might prefer a lower premium with more cost-sharing. AARP has also supported Medigap reforms in other areas, such as prohibiting insurers from denying Medigap coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions.

AARP – along with most groups representing seniors – has been clear in its position against raising the eligibility age for people in Medicare. Such a change would, again, shift costs to seniors. It would increase premiums not only for those aged 65 and 66 or older who are forced back into the private market, but it would also worsen the risk pool by removing the healthiest Medicare beneficiaries from the program, thus raising premiums for those still in Medicare.  And by adding these older persons into the private market, it would raise costs for employers and those under age 65. Indeed, raising the eligibility age would actually increase total health costs. AARP opposes budget driven decisions that merely shift costs to seniors – who are already paying more and more out of pocket for healthcare expenses – and fail to address rising health costs.

Beyond advocating for older Americans in Washington and state capitols, AARP advocates for older Americans in the marketplace. By lending our brand to only high-quality, consumer friendly products and services, we’ve helped shape a variety of industries – insurance included – to better serve the needs of our members and all older Americans. For example, the AARP Medicare Supplement Insurance Plans insured by UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company enrolls 99 percent of applicants. The AARP-branded hearing care program from HearUSA includes consumer protections; three-year warranties on all hearing aids, three-year supply of batteries and on-going follow-up care – offerings that have now become the standard in the marketplace.

Once again, AARP’s advocacy decisions are driven solely by our commitment to meeting the needs of our members and all Americans 50+.  If we were driven in any way by financial considerations, AARP could have supported proposals – such as “premium support” in Medicare and private accounts in Social Security – that would have forced more seniors into purchasing private health and financial products, including those that AARP brands.

The truth is that we do not even know if those assumptions of insurance market impact are true, because that has never been a factor in AARP’s advocacy determinations.

AARP understands our duty to be transparent with our members and all Americans.  AARP is transparent about the royalty revenues we receive from branding products and services, and older Americans are familiar with the highly visible ads run by the insurance providers who offer AARP-branded plans. As part of our commitment to transparency, we make our annual reports and financial statements available on our own website and encourage anyone interested to see for themselves.

These royalty revenues help to fund our advocacy efforts – such as the fight for access to affordable health care for all – as well as AARP’s driver safety program, volunteer initiatives, health and consumer guides and many other programs and services that improve the lives of people 50+.  These revenues also allow us to keep our dues low – which helps keep our membership more affordable for millions of older Americans.

This election season showed that most Americans are tired of personal attacks, and AARP will continue to keep its focus on acting in the best interests of older Americans.