Gingrey falsely says AARP favors money over seniors

Rep. Phil Gingrey’s (R-Ga.) op-ed, “AARP shows more interest in its bottom line than help for seniors” (Jan. 18), contains unsubstantiated allegations and misinformation.

AARP was founded by Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus in 1958 to serve older Americans and make insurance available to retirees as no such healthcare plans did until the creation of Medicare — a lifeline program that AARP has championed ever since. Her vision was to unify the collective power of older Americans to achieve positive social change through direct advocacy, public service and the private marketplace.

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As long as older Americans struggle with private insurance practices that deny access or charge excessive premiums based only on their age, AARP will continue to work with legislators and influence the private marketplace to ensure better healthcare options. This has been our stance since inception.

There is no secret about this, and we make no apologies.

We brand insurance plans that we believe can help older Americans —products that provide more consumer-friendly options to those who often face obstacles in obtaining private health insurance. The royalties we receive allow AARP to conduct the consumer protection, service and advocacy work we do at the local and national levels.

Our stances are determined by a board of volunteers from across the U.S. and driven by our members’ interests and the interests of all older Americans — nothing else.

In 2003, our position drew favor from Rep. Gingrey when he joined us in supporting  creation of Medicare Part D, proclaiming on the House floor, “I will guarantee my colleagues that the seniors in this country respect [AARP], as we all do and should, because they have certainly delivered for seniors and have a proven track record.”

In this spirit, AARP will continue to fight to protect Medicare. Health reform must get rid of waste, fraud and inefficiency in Medicare to improve quality and lower costs throughout the system.

AARP firmly believes that our members should have the best possible choices for their healthcare, but we believe Medicare Advantage plans must compete on the basis of quality and efficiency, not excess taxpayer-funded subsidies. Reducing excess subsidies could save more than $100 billion that would be better used to strengthen Medicare for everybody by protecting patients’ access to their doctors, covering more preventive care and closing the dreaded coverage gap in Medicare’s prescription drug program.

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Moreover, it is patently false for Rep. Gingrey to suggest that we wish to exempt Medigap plans from the health insurance market reforms we champion.

In fact, AARP has endorsed legislation in the Senate to ensure all Medicare beneficiaries, especially people with disabilities or those with limited incomes, have access to Medigap coverage. We would be pleased to support similar legislation in the House.

Our policy positions drive all of our work, and we would gladly forgo the revenue we receive in exchange for a healthcare system that works for everyone.

From Tom Nelson, AARP chief operating officer, Washington