Restoring Confidence in the Economy
Some Fun With Old Age

Guest Blogger Saul Friedman on AARP

{EDITORIAL NOTE: Saul Friedman, who is becoming a semi-regular guest blogger at TGB, writes the Gray Matters column for Newsday. He was a 1963 Nieman fellow and among other prominent Americans on President Nixon's master list of political opponents (proudly, no doubt), which was a supplement to Nixon's Enemies List.]

category_bug_journal2.gif I think it’s about time to take on the sacred cow called AARP, which used to be called the American Association of Retired Persons before it became an insurance program for boomers and the Medicare generation. I figure I have a right to criticize because I’ve been a member in good standing for more than 20 years and I have studied the organization and at times I’ve been close its leaders through my column, “Gray Matters.”

I have praised AARP for its research and its services for its 35 million members, but especially for its role in helping to kill George W. Bush’s crazy scheme to turn Social Security into millions of 401(k)s. But AARP was making amends for its crucial support for the 2003 Republican privatization of the Medicare Part D program. Earlier, AARP had been firmly in favor of placing the drug benefit under Medicare.

But when they caved, AARP also allowed the Republican-dominated Congress to fill the so-called Medicare Modernization Act with poisons that still threaten to kill Medicare: huge subsidies for insurance companies, a means test that is intended to drive away more affluent beneficiaries, and a gimmick, called the 45 percent cap, that was designed to stunt Medicare’s budget growth.

At the time of its passage, which cost AARP hundreds of members, the organization’s Republican-leaning CEO, William Novelli, pledged that AARP would work to improve the law. Which brings me to my present gripe with AARP.

In the last couple of weeks, in anticipation of Barack Obama’s election and a Medicare-friendly Democratic Congress, a new coalition was formed to repeal the most onerous provisions of the 2003 Medicare Law. Called the “Alliance to Restore Medicare,” it includes some of the best Medicare advocates, among them, the Center for Medicare Advocacy, the Medicare Rights Center, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare and the National Senior Citizens Law Center. Among the missing is AARP. Why?

One reason, members of the Alliance were told, is that AARP was not involved in the creation of the organization and setting its goals. An AARP official said his organization is in favor of most of the Alliance’s goals, such as the repeal of the 45 percent cap, ending the overpayments for private Medicare Advantage plans and ending the higher premiums for more affluent enrollees.

But, he added, AARP is flatly opposed to the goal of “creating a prescription drug benefit entirely within the original Medicare program.” He opposes tampering with Part D because, he said, Medicare beneficiaries are satisfied with Part D, despite evidence to the contrary, its confusing choices, its rising costs, its doughnut hole and the recurring danger that millions of low income elderly must scramble each year for new coverage.

But then, AARP earns $700 million a year in royalties from the sale of Part D insurance. And that brings me to another problem for AARP, to which I was alerted by retired Iowa editor Gil Cranberg, writing in Niemanwatchdog.

On November 3, Senator Charles Grassley, of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, sent a critical letter to AARP’s Novelli, reporting on the complaints of policyholders who purchased health insurance designed for persons five years too young for Medicare who thought they were buying comprehensive coverage.

Grassley’s investigators, following up on the complaints found the sales pitches were misleading and the policies were almost worthless. As a result, Novelli suspended the sale of such policies, which had been peddled by UnitedHealth. But it’s unclear what AARP will do about current policyholders. So far AARP has not replied to Grassley’s irate letter demanding details of how the policies were marketed and how many were sold, or my own inquiries.

One more thing: When these policies were introduced, they were sold as a “bridge” to Medicare. In other words, AARP was selling and promoting private insurance as an alternative to Medicare.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, liloldme has pondered The Difference Between Grandparents and Great Grandparents.]


Before I was AARP eligible I was always under the impression that they were advocates for the rights of older Americans which included looking out for their best interests. All this backed by a strong and large membership base that could wield influence, both political and otherwise.

I finally joined around age fifty-seven, about ten years ago, and within a few months began to notice my mail constantly laced with many other solicitations from AARP about other insurance and services. It slowly became apparent to me that the fox in the hen house was AARP. They ultimately went on the top of my list of organizations most likely to scam old people. They weren’t advising me on the good and the bad services out there…..they were trying to sell me their services. Their participation and action during the Medicare Part-D debate was jaw-dropping and disgusting to say the least and for me, the last straw.

I cancelled my membership during that fiasco and will not ever renew it. There have been several organizations which have been created over the years with the best of intentions, but once they find themselves successful in their endeavor it seems the pendulum always swings to the greed and self-serving side. They no longer serve their membership but rather feed off of it.

I apologize if this sounds more like a rant than constructive commentary…..but is feels soooooo good!!

Thanks...I think! Some days the bad news wears me out. I'll threaten to quit if they don't change position on the prescription program. That should do it

I was long told that some of the certainties of life included death, taxes, and being chased down to join by AARP when you turned 50. Well, I'm 61 and they don't seem to have noticed me. I wonder whether my decidedly inner city address discourages them.

Not that they wouldn't be wasting their advertising dollars. Their support of the Medicare prescription drug monstrosity has turned me away from them, probably permanently.

I left AARP when they were pushing Medicare Part D after they assured us that they did not involve themselves in politics. I was especially outraged at the giveaway to big Pharma. I also canceled my membership at that time with a letter explaining my reasons and I have never looked back.

Since I am too young for Social Security or Medicare, whenever I see an article detailing some of the features of either, I ask Mom for her comments. Looking at this post I asked Mom if she was satisfied with her Part D coverage. "I don't have it," she replied. "Would you be satisfied if you did have it," I asked. "NO!" she said. She has looked at her options every year since the Part D legislation was passed and decided each year to remain with the employer provided retiree health care. I don't think AARP looked very carefully at how their membership feels about Part D. Most of our junk mail comes from AARP affiliated insurance providers. Mom had one of those providers for a while but dropped it when she found a local provider who offered a considerably lower price for better coverage. We can't assume that AARP is really looking out for their membership--any more than any other large organization does. We have to look out for ourselves and that may mean dropping AARP.

As I promised several years ago when this blog tackled the same subject, I did not renew my membership and it has expired.

AARP ceased being an organization for the elders a long time ago and became instead an advertising agency via a slick magazine for the middle aged.

We joined AARP last year but I hated doing it even then. I don't like lobbying one age against another as they look for increased pieces of the government pie at the expense of others. You make good points here as to why I should have stayed out permanently.

I have come to believe we need health care insurance that covers us all with limitations as to what is paid for when the treatment is only extending dying, not living. This won't be popular or easy but it seems logical to me that right now the medical profession has the ability to keep dying going on for years at a very high cost. Who gains from that? Certainly not the sick person who is suffering and hoping but only extending their misery. There are many treatments that are cost effective and work; that's where the money should go.

With the improved medical treatments possible, the cost has skyrocketed which is why some fear universal health care. This might sound hardhearted; but if we have universal care-- for any age group, there has to be a realistic assessment of what will work and what won't, with experimental programs recognized as experimental to learn new ways but not for everyone until proven effective.

In my mind, nobody should have to fear they can't afford basic, effective health care, but without some controls, it could bankrupt our country and ruin the health care system that does work.

To me, groups that lobby for their own group or disease aren't helping. We need to look at comprehensive plans that are realistic and maybe that's not realistic for me to hope for that.

He opposes tampering with Part D because, he said, Medicare beneficiaries are satisfied with Part D...

AARP must get their information from mouldy tea leaves...most seniors I have spoken to HATE the difficulty of manuevering through Part D, and the doughnut is devasting to many.

Medicare part D stinks! And Rain is correct. Universal health care is going to be difficult at best because of our attitudes about death & dying in this country. Dee

AARP support for Medicare Part D was the reason I dropped it too.

We need universal health care (not insurance, care).
Auto makers claim it is high cost of health insurance that has caused much of their problem. Put $$$ into universal health care instead of bail out. That would help the auto industry and be a real boon to small businesses. Even my very conservative friend who operates a small business likes this idea.
It would be a stimulus for the whole country. It would cut business expenses and put money into the pockets of individuals who have to buy their own coverage.

The only downside is the insurance industry (Is the word industry proper for a business that does not produce anything?) I think those folks could find other places to shuffle papers. Their own health would probably improve when they are no longer required to deny people the care they need.

"this particularly reprehensible outrage: the law that prevents Medicare from negotiating drug prices with pharmaceutical companies as the Veterans Administration does"

I was so upset when AARP lobbied Congress and went along with support for the Medicare Plan D.
I went ahead and signed up for AARP Medicare Plan D (United Health Care) but I am still mad about the donut hole which my husband and I are in for about 5 months of the year.

However there is not a dime's worth of difference between AARP (United's Plan) and many others.
I hope President Obama has Congress revisit the prescription drug plan for Medicare and resolves the issues. The Insurance and big Pharmaceutical Industries had their lobbyists out in full force when this was enacted.

"AARP ceased being an organization for the elders a long time ago and became instead an advertising agency via a slick magazine for the middle aged."

Sign me up as agreeing with almost all of the comments, including the quote, above, from Darlene's. When I first joined AARP, my impression was that it was run by people like me--older women. And...I was happy with it. As the employees/officers of AARP began to look less and less like me, including several years when everything seemed to be run by males, things started going South. I would lay pretty good odds that the average age of the employees is well below the minimum age of membership. (And...why in the world would the age have been set at 50 rather than 60?!!!!)

I am disgusted with the institutes of higher education (and their associated research institutes) and with many non-profits for their having become perfect replicas of business organizations--empire whose purposes have become self-agrandizement and empire building.

Dr Andrus is surely turning in her grave.

I would be very surprised if you couldn't find a much better Part D plan than AARP by checking with the planfinder on the Medicare web site. Most people I know change plans every year because the plans change substantially every year. I suggest you check it out.

Part D was the reason I also cancelled my AARP membership. It's a most inefficient and expensive way to deliver drug coverage.

I only joined AARP in the beginning for the occasional discounts. I've read little in their publication I haven't found elsewhere before I received their magazine. I resent all their related junk mailings.

I dropped my membership in protest when the Medicare D issue came up though I do not have that benefit since my supplemental insurance is preferable. Not long ago I decided to give AARP another chance, but have about decided to dump them again.

I see no reason why a national health care system can't be designed that reflects effective cost cutting measures, especially the prescription drug cost problem. Other pertinent issues you've written about here, Ronni, and I've commented on previously can also be incorporated. AARP does not seem likely to be an advocate for any health plan that will deprive them of insurance monies.

As I was on U.S. Civil Service I had the type of health care coverage
I think everybody should have, except now the Bush Administration are putting out a new program that has deductibles that start at $2000 annually for families.

But here is my gripe about AARP. They put out brain exercises and games that are the sort of thing I advocate for preventing and
slowing down dementias (Alzheimer)
But to get my results and standing
I have to go through an endless
series of advertisements for goods, including foods that are
unhealthy. Furthermore, one of the game sites require a Mobile phone number which I don't have.
So rather than putting up an alternative ID I can't finish the game. AARP surely is a funnel for the fat cats who want you to buy their stuff lsuch as telephones and subscriptions.

Frank - try - they have great games and many of them are free. I am so confused with all the health care issues that I have just decided to have medicare and some drug plan that fits my budget and just hope it is enough.

For some real historical insight into the AARP,read “Trust Betrayed; Inside the AARP,” by Dale Van Atta (Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1998). It can still be had via AARP has not really changed much at all since that expose. It is still a mail order insurance company that is built on its huge data base of names and addresses.

I asked AARP to refund all moneys I paid in dues,they declined.Mabe its time for a class action suit.

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