Imperial Valley Press

Is AARP putting profits over the interests of its members?

- PETER ROFF Peter Roff is a former UPI and U.S. News & World Report columnist who is now affiliated with several Washington D.C.-based public policy organizati­ons. Contact Roff at RoffColumn­, or follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.

Washington is full of groups that claim to represent the interests of the American people. Some have lots of members, which makes them formidable actors in the ongoing effort to craft public policy.

Among the most powerful is AARP (formerly known as the American Associatio­n of Retired Persons), which has developed a network of politicall­y active seniors who vote and who defend their benefits zealously. That makes them a group the politician­s fear, which gives them outsized influence on issues like healthcare.

According to a new report, what the group seems to be may not be what it is. “How AARP Puts Profits over Patients and Principles,” issued by a conservati­ve nonprofit called American Commitment, says that rather than being a genuine grassroots lobby organizati­on, AARP’s ties to the health insurance industry have turned into something like a corporate influence operation working to sway the decisions of Capitol Hill lawmakers.

Many times, the report says, AARP has done things that create apparent conflicts of interest between the needs of the people the group claims to represent.

“If AARP were an honest broker for seniors, they would have acknowledg­ed, and likely fought against, Democrats’ budgeting ruse allowing them to raid $ 280 billion from the supposed Medicare savings in the IRA,” wrote economist Stephen Moore in National Review. “Billions were instead diverted to fund subsidies for non-Medicare healthcare policies paid to big insurers.”

Critics of price controls on pharmaceut­icals allege they will discourage future research and innovation which, in turn, will eventually cause the quality of care available to seniors to diminish over coming years.

All this, American Commitment President Phil Kerpen said, “provides further evidence that AARP does not serve the interests of seniors, but rather its principal funders, UnitedHeal­th and its subsidiary OptumRx —respective­ly the largest health insurance company in the country and a pharmacy middleman.”

Accusing AARP of having made “its allegiance to these companies clear,” Kerpen goes on to decry the group’s support for legislatio­n that siphoned “billions of dollars from seniors’ Medicare to subsidize big health insurers and liberal spending priorities.”

AARP’s internal polling continuall­y shows the cost of health insurance premiums, the size of deductible­s and co- pays, and other out- ofpocket expenses are what close to three- quarters of seniors cite as the biggest financial issue they face in healthcare. Less than 20% say it’s the price of prescripti­on drugs, which is a major concern for the insurance companies. Which issue gets most of AARP’s attention?

Well, AARP pushed Congress to enact the trillion- dollar Inflation Reduction Act, which included provisions helpful to the health insurance industry but overall damaging to Medicare’s long- term financial security. That doesn’t sound like something a seniors’ lobby should be doing – yet it reportedly spent millions on paid ads urging passage of the act as well as petition drives and meetings that almost exclusivel­y benefited congressio­nal Democrats backing the measure’s cap on prescripti­on drug prices.

Congress has investigat­ed AARP’s financial relationsh­ip with big insurance more than once without reaching any conclusion­s. It should do so again, in its interests and the public’s. Unless it does, the risk that legislativ­e and regulatory actions will be pushed ahead under the guise of helping America’s seniors that will hurt them.

AARP members have a right to know what’s going on. So does Congress, and so do we all. It is a matter of trust.

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