AARP’s Tradition of Betrayal

Founded in 1958 for aged 50 and older Americans, AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) call itself “a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization (dedicated to) improv(ing) the quality of their lives,” even though from inception it sold insurance to earn royalties – now to its 40 million members in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands while claiming a mandate to:

  • deliver “value to members through information, advocacy and service;”
  • work “tirelessly to fulfill its vision: a society in which everyone ages with dignity and purpose, and in which AARP helps people fulfill their goals and dreams;” and
  • speak “with one voice – united by a common motto: ‘To serve, not be served.”

Today it’s branches include:

  • AARP Foundation focusing on “education….service, (and) legal advocacy efforts;”
  • AARP Services, providing “marketplace access to services that people need and want” related to “health and financial products, travel and leisure offerings, and life event services;”
  • AARP Financial, Inc. providing “financial advice and education, and managed AARP-endorsed financial and insurance products,” that include health care and other insurance as well as equity, bond and money market mutual funds sold to members;
  • AARP Global Network of “likeminded, nonpartisan, national organizations (in five countries) working to meet the needs of older adults around the world;” and
  • NRTA: AARP’s Educator Community (formerly the National Retired Teachers Association) comprised mainly of “educators and school personnel dedicated to educational opportunities, advocacy, and service.”

On March 9, 2009, Roll Call’s Katie Kindelan’s article titled, “Defining a Future at AARP” described the organization as “perhaps the nation’s most powerful and well-funded advocacy” group, both inside and beyond the Beltway, impressively headquartered in a 10-story, 500,000 foot DC building.

Nonprofit in name only, “AARP is the equivalent of a Fortune 500 company, employing a staff of 2,419 employees, (incurring) $1.16 billion in operating expenses and overseeing annual revenues (well above) $1 billion,” around 60% of which comes from so-called Medigap supplemental insurance sales.

According to Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), “Some of these products are total rip offs,” so bad, in fact, that AARP was forced to withdraw its Essential Health Insurance Plan and Essential Plus Health Insurance Plan, developed by United Health Group and sold to 44,000 of its members.

PNHP calls AARP “part of the problem and not part of the solution. It is nothing but an insurance (and financial) broker disguised as an advocacy group – and they will never take on the health insurance industry. (It) represent(s) the insurance industry (and its own self-interest) rather than (its members and) the public welfare in discussions about health reform.”

As a result, it’s largely profit-driven offering 17 types of insurance reaping hundreds of millions annually in royalties. Millions more from selling drugs; other products and services including mutual funds; plus federal subsidies exceeding $80 million annually; and annual membership dues of $16 per year, $43 for three years, or $63 for five x 40 million members.

It’s also active on Capitol Hill with a 50-person staff and a 2008 $28 million lobbying budget, much like major corporations and for the same purpose – profits at the expense of member interests, unaware how they’re ill-served by an organization claiming to be their advocate.

AARP’s Role in Enacting the Controversial Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act (MMA) of 2003 – the So-Called Part D

Costing tens of billions annually, passage came only after initially being defeated, followed by a three hour all-night suspending of proceedings to exert pressure and offer bribes because passage assured PhRMA big profits at the expense of seniors extorted top dollar for prescription drugs, not the substantial savings government-negotiated prices would have delivered. Yet AARP was one of its staunchest advocates.

In an email later revealed, the organization’s associate executive policy director, Chris Hansen (a former aerospace lobbyist), assured Bush deputy assistant to the president, Barry Jackson, that he was on board with only minor issues to resolve. He said:

“We know that there may be details that we will message differently but we are together on the big goal.”

The deal was struck, and in succeeding weeks, AARP leaders worked closely with House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to draft a final bill. On November 22, 2003 the House passed it. The Senate followed three days later, and on December 8, it became law after George Bush signed it as “an important step toward fulfilling a longstanding promise to older and disabled Americans” who later learned they were swindled by the administration, Congress, and their premiere advocate that betrayed them for profits, its ties to PhRMA, and greater political influence in Washington.

At the time, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich explained that AARP’s CEO, Bill Novelli, had “a long history of supporting individual responsibility in health care and doesn’t want seniors dependent on government handouts.” Novelli, in fact, invited Gingrich to join an advisory panel to discuss AARP future strategies, including insurance and other products and services it might sell. He also endorsed Gingrich’s book, Saving Lives and Saving Money by writing in its forward:

“Gingrich’s (marketplace medicine) ideas are influencing how we at AARP are thinking about our national role” in the health care debate. Whether or not “one agrees (with his) policies, the book has interesting and important ideas about transforming the American health care system” to assure it remains a private for-profit system, not one run by Washington.

Novelli also expressed concern about “how (Medicare) is financed and operated,” the program AARP opposed in the 1960s, after which it supported the major 1988 Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act expansion, aligned with the Republican-controlled Congress in 1995 on health issues, backed the 1997 Medicare Reform Act that let recipients choose between private health insurance plans, and was comfortable with a free-market approach after Novelli became CEO in June 2001.

His background foretold his advocacy. His November Group initiative for Richard Nixon helped devise attack ads against George McGovern in 1972. In the 1980s, his Porter-Novelli PR firm helped the drug industry. When he left in 1990, his clients included Bristol-Myers, Ciba-Geigy, Hoffman-La Roche, SmithKline Beecham, and the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association.

As AARP CEO, Novelli began centralizing control at the top, away from greater grassroots input attuned to local needs and interests. He also hired Republican-leaning staff, including former Boeing executive Chris Hansen as chief lobbyist, who along with Novelli and Mike Naylor (a former John Deere and AlliedSignal executive) orchestrated AARP’s position on Medicare Part D. They then worked closely with Republican leaders to pass it.

According to advocates for universal single-payer coverage and others, passage of the 2003 law potentially marked the beginning of the end for publicly-financed Medicare and clouded the future of employer-provided coverage. AARP played a crucial role, much like today in the debate over health care reform. It’s siding with free-market ideologues destroys its credibility as an advocate for seniors.

AARP’s Support for Obamacare

Its initiative Health Action Now calls “this crucial moment (the) opportunity of a lifetime to fix our broken health care system. President Obama has promised health reform before the end of the year but we need to make sure that Congress follows through.”

It asks individuals to email “decision makers” about the the health care crisis and concludes:

“America needs you to take action to ensure that everyone has a choice of health care they can afford. I urge you to commit to working on a bipartisan basis to pass legislation that will provide all Americans with affordable health care choices and strengthen Medicare and improve long-term care services.”

Based on other public and internal messages, it subtly endorses hundreds of billions of Medicare cuts over the next decade as a first step toward ending Washington’s responsibility entirely by shifting the obligation to states that, in turn, will force their residents to bear the burden through higher taxes, on their own, or for those who can’t afford it, get no coverage when they most need it. That’s Obamacare’s promise, the one AARP endorses with thousands of its members dropping their memberships from an organization mindless of their interests.

On its Health Action Now web site, AARP headlines “Myths vs. Facts (saying) Don’t Let the Myths About Health Care Reform Scare You,” then follows with misinformation and outright distortion of the facts by claiming:

— Obamacare won’t ration care;

Fact check:

— proposals call for hundreds of billions in cuts over ten years with near certain greater amounts to follow;

— billions in waste will be eliminated;

Fact check:

— the above cuts will eliminate essential services, thus assuring less care, not more;

— lower drug prices;

Fact check:

— no mandate exists to cut them, just a non-binding promise on existing products and none whatever on new ones;

— “the so-called ‘public plan’ option (will) give American consumers choice if they can’t find affordable, quality coverage in the private insurance market;

Fact check:

— most people won’t qualify for a public option, and the one discussed will provide fig leaf cover for a weak and ineffective plan, not high-quality care for its recipients;

— Obamacare guarantees “all Americans a choice of health care plans they can afford;”

Fact check:

— choices will offer poor options, not quality care;

— reform plans “will NOT give the government the power to make life or death decisions for anyone regardless of their age;”

Fact check:

— hundreds of billions in Medicare cuts and restricted expensive treatments will do it for them;

— “Health care reform will help ensure doctors are paid fairly so they will continue to treat Medicare patients;”

Fact check:

— doctors already are unpaid and $200 billion in new cuts are proposed;

— “None of the health care reform proposals being considered by Congress would cut Medicare benefits or increase your out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services;”

Fact check:

— Obamacare assures both;

— “Health care reform will reduce costly, preventable hospital readmissions, saving patients and Medicare money;”

Fact check:

— less care assures more illness, not less, and higher costs to be borne by recipients;

— “Rather than weaken Medicare, health care reform will strengthen the financial status of the Medicare program;”

Fact check:

— proposed cuts, along with new ones, will weaken and eventually destroy Medicare as well as other social safety net protections because Washington prioritizes banker bailouts, other corporate subsidies, trillion dollar defense budgets, militarizing America, and servicing growing hundreds of billions in debt obligations;

— “The President and Congress have committed to producing legislation that will be paid for so it won’t saddle our children and grandchildren with debt;”

Fact check:

— growing debt obligations place a lifetime burden on future generations to pay for them; and

— “If we do nothing to fix health care, families with Medicare or employer-based health coverage will likely see their premiums nearly double in the next seven years;”

Fact check:

— private insurers are assured unrestricted freedom to raise rates and will take full advantage as they’ve always done.

Nowhere under “Myths vs. Facts” does AARP suggest the only real reform solution that’s off the table and undiscussed by the administration, Congress, the major media, or by organization officials as a fundamental human right – universal single-payer coverage assuring everyone in, nobody out. Instead, Washington, in cahoots with powerful providers and AARP, highjacked the process for greater future profits by charging more, providing less, making a dysfunctional system worse, and cheating growing millions with promises they know are hollow.

It’s become traditional at AARP, cashing in at members’ expense after advocating to “improve the quality of their lives.” Will more dropouts follow over concerns about its betrayal? Very likely as Washington steamrolls toward an end of year resolution that will erode health care coverage for most Americans and deny it entirely to millions under the mantle of reform and AARP’s endorsement. It’s tradition continues.

Stephen Lendman wrote How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War. Contact him at: Also visit his blog site and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM-1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests. All programs are archived for easy listening. Read other articles by Stephen.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Don Hawkins said on October 23rd, 2009 at 12:50pm #

    Well Stephen I knew it was to good to be true and I get an AARP letter in the mail about every two weeks wanting me to sign up with them and different things they tell me I need and usually a card with my name on it that looks so official. What I have done for a few years now is tear it up in little pieces and put it in the trash. To be truthfully honest with you I think health care is the least of our the our being all 6 billion plus of us problems. It appears that in about 4 months we will know if Nostradamus was on to something as so far the low road looks like the path. Low road doesn’t begin to explain the strangeness we see now no it sure doesn’t. Corruption, greed, illusion where fiction is fact and fact is fiction. Has it always’ been that way probably but now at new heights and this time no second chance. Could that be what many from the past have been trying to tell us?

    Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money. ~Cree Indian Proverb

  2. thecelt said on October 23rd, 2009 at 7:24pm #

    Any organization that claims to work on behalf of the aged, an ever and increasingly vulnerable part of the population, that doesnt support a full-on single payer health system with an emphasis on dignified care for the elderly, is quite simply a gang of traitorous scum. I see the AARP mailings in my parents home, with the names and logos of insurance companies emblazoned all over it, and I think to myself….is this it? Is this what the aged have to turn to when they get screwed and abused? The AA f#cking RP? I kid you not, I have watched the insurance companies completely ruin my parents lives and drive them into pauperism and poverty, where once they were solidly middle class. I fear for them, daily. No insurance, massive health problems, including life threatening cancer, and they made payments out of pocket, until their money ran out, of 3000 dollars a month to BCBS for coverage. BEFORE the cancer diagnosis. Oh, did I mention that, for whatever reason, they dont qualify for medicaid? (how thats the case, ill never understand) This country makes me sick (although hopefully not too sick—id rather not see the bill) How many others are there out there with the same exact predicament? And who do all these aged people turn to? The Democrats? The Unions? The AARP? Traitors to our class, the whole lot of them. Its so easy to talk of these things like they are some sort of hypothetical problem. When they destroy your life and your loved ones, the anger consumes you. Not having an outlet, a way to get together and force change now, depresses you. And to see groups like the AARP claim to speak for our family members is enough to drive you mad.

  3. Anita Bellin said on October 24th, 2009 at 7:47am #

    I used to be a “member” of AARP. I stopped sending them money or responding to the letters which promised a vague grouping of goals for those of us who were willing suckers when I discovered that they were making a profit from the Gap insurance program which was only exceeded by the profit they were getting from the home and auto policies which they were hawking.
    I am a retired state employee of the State of Vermont with a Governor who has worked for the past five years to eliminate those of us who are covered by the health insurance program because we cost too much and he has other plans for the dollars. So what if we are left without coverage.
    Vermont is a beautiful place with wonderful people (mostly) and a vibrant political system which should protect us but — we have greedy and arrogant Governor, a glut of elected legislators who are blissfully unaware of the trials and tribulations of most of the regular (not part-time visiting) citizens who support their lifestyle and smile at their follies. Single payer health care is anathema to them — It might provide care and concern for the poorest of the Vermonters who are seen by many of the legislators as too lazy to work and who view the doctors who work to keep them healthy as a servant class who don’t deserve any more compensation than they now receive from insurers who workvery hard to maintain their personal profits.

  4. hmmm said on October 24th, 2009 at 12:54pm #

    i knew they were a horrible ripoff (a Trojan horse, really) when:

    a) they supported and fought for that cretin in chief’ s medicare plan, including the gift to the pharma companies and prohibition of buying meds from Canada or having government negotiating lower med prices.

    b) kept singing odes to the Massachusetts’ health care “plan” in which the poor (they call us “middle class”) are required to pay astronomical sums to “health” insurance companies (in return for nothing) or face stiff penalties (all the time braying about “personal” responsibility to be insured, and the costs that are incurred by the society because of the irresponsible uninsured (nothing about responsibility of the rich and powerful));

    c) kept sending me invites to sign up for “affordable” health insurance, but when i called i would always get some totally lost person who didn’t know the first thing about this and then in the end it turned out they “didn’t offer” it in my state;

    d) kept sending me life insurance solicitations over and over and over again even after i informed them i wanted nothing to do with this;

    e) kept sending me invites to sign up for their “fantastic hospital indemnification plan”, by which, if you’re a total idiot and can’t do basic counting on your fingers, you will pay hundreds of dollars up front per year in exchange for the right to some pocket change (enough to buy a daily Coke from a vending machine), in case you should be hospitalized. (And this, couched in dire warnings about how a single day at a hospital costs thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, but what they were offering would not, in any way, alleviate any of this, or be even applicable to these costs. But here’s ten bucks each day for you, so you can go out of your intensive care unit and buy a decent meal for yourself, maybe call your loved ones from a pay phone);

    f) kept sending me solicitations for car insurance, promising average annual savings of $531.74 (or some such scientifically precise number), when in fact, when i checked, they were significantly overpriced over my current insurance company.

    g) kept sending me urgent solicitations to extend my membership two years before it was up; and it looked and sounded so convincing, my membership was up, and i was tempted to just send the check and get it over with, but then i looked at my card and saw the true state of affairs.