AARP bashes Obama for using it to promote himself in debate

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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DENVER – The AARP ripped President Barack Obama for using the organization’s name to support himself politically during Wednesday evening’s presidential debate.

“While we respect the rights of each campaign to make its case to voters, AARP has never consented to the use of its name by any candidate or political campaign,” AARP vice president John Hishta said in a statement immediately after the debate. “AARP is a nonpartisan organization, and we do not endorse political candidates nor coordinate with any candidate or political party.”

The president mentioned AARP to support his attack on Romney’s Medicare plan.

“And then, what you’ve got is folks like my grandmother at the mercy of the private insurance system precisely at the time when they are most in need of decent health care,” Obama said. “So, I don’t think vouchers are the right way to go. And this is not my own – only my opinion. AARP thinks that the – the savings that we obtained from Medicare bolster the system, lengthen the Medicare trust fund by eight years. Benefits were not affected at all. “

AARP endorsed Obamacare in what South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint called a move that “sells out seniors.” DeMint argued in a recent op-ed that AARP “poses as a disinterested senior advocate, [but] functions as an insurance conglomerate, with a liberal lobbying arm on the side.”

“AARP depends on profits, royalties and commissions to make up more than 50 percent of its annual revenues,” DeMint wrote. “Membership dues from seniors account for only about 20 percent. The sums involved aren’t chump change: AARP’s $458 million in health insurance revenue in 2011 would rank it as the nation’s sixth most profitable health insurer.”

AARP responded that DeMint simply “rehashes a litany of attacks on AARP as familiar as they are untrue.”

“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 senior vice president Jeffrey Davis wrote in an op-ed responding to DeMint’s. “We make policy decisions based on what we believe will be in the best interests of Americans over age 50. This simple truth was difficult for some on the political left to accept when we supported the creation of a Medicare prescription drug benefit, and it has proved difficult for some on the right to accept as our motivation for endorsing the Affordable Care Act.”

DeMint argued that “AARP’s policy positions just happen to coincide with its financial interests.”

“‘Obamacare,’ which AARP lobbied heavily for, could yield the group windfall profits of more than $1 billion over the next decade by forcing seniors off Medicare Advantage plans and into Medigap supplemental coverage,” DeMint wrote. “Conversely, AARP engaged in a secret lobbying campaign to block Medigap reforms last year that by one estimate would have saved nearly 80 percent of seniors an average of $415 per year – but cost AARP billions in profits.”

“[U]nfortunately, the health reform law didn’t address the Medigap market, which is regulated separately from the under-65 private market,” Davis responded. “AARP believes more needs to be done to ensure seniors are getting the best value for their dollar, and that’s why we continue to work with Congress to improve the Medigap marketplace for seniors.”

Even so, an early draft version of Obamacare legislation obtained by TheDC shows legislators were trying to go after Medigap, but that section was removed from the legislation before it was officially introduced. And, as TheDC has reported, several attempts at bipartisan Medigap reform that AARP publicly said it supports haven’t gone anywhere on Capitol Hill since Obamacare passed.

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