Why is AARP Supporting Proposed Medicare Cuts?

So often during the health care debate we’ve heard: “If you like it, you can keep it.” But who’s heard of this significant exception: “unless you’re a senior with a Medicare health plan”?

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that 3 million seniors will lose their Medicare health plan coverage and 3 million fewer seniors will enroll in such a plan if the current bill passed through the Ways and Means Committee, H.R. 3200, becomes law.

With a large senior constituency and an array of health insurance products to sell, there’s a lot at stake for AARP in the health care debate. In public statements, and during a personal meeting in my office in July, AARP representatives have advocated for H.R. 3200, stating: “This bill would make great strides for all of our members and their families,” yet the bill contains nearly $500 billion in Medicare cuts, including $156 billion in cuts to Medicare health plans affecting 14 million seniors, many of whom are likely AARP members. In short, they have vocally supported a proposal that would cut Medicare benefits, and I find that curious.

Why would an organization that has historically advocated for our seniors aggressively support such a bill? This week, I put that question – and many more – into writing. I am concerned about the cuts to Medicare, and that our seniors may be left without the care they need and deserve. From where I sit, there appears to be a direct conflict of interest between AARP’s advocacy for legislation that slashes the Medicare Advantage program – in which millions of seniors participate – and the sale of AARP-sponsored Medigap plans.

This week the House Republican Conference released a study about this very topic. “A review of its financial statements finds that in 2008, AARP received more than half a billion dollars in revenue from selling products like Medigap supplemental insurance policies-$652.7 million in direct “royalties and fees,” and an increase of more than 31 percent from the $497.6 million in similar revenue AARP generated in 2007.”

Has AARP lost sight of its mission? Is it now only acting to preserve its own interests? I intend to find out.