Friday, June 17, 2011
Senior organizations rebel against reported AARP support of social security modifications
by Larry Geller
Who says seniors don’t use the Internet? Senior organizations networked with each other rapidly this morning in reaction to a Wall Street Journal story that AARP would support changes to Social Security. The WSJ story was followed rapidly by independent stories on major news outlets such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Links: WSJ–Key Seniors Association Pivots on Benefit Cut, NY Times–AARP Is Open to Future Cuts of Social Security Benefits, Fox News–AARP Pushes Back on Claim About Social Security Concessions as Lawmakers Push Reform
From the NY Times story:
Doug Henwood, the Brooklyn editor of a liberal business blog and Internet radio program who has written on Social Security, said AARP’s willingness to consider cuts in benefits “reads like a sign that this former lobby for the interest of older Americans has now transformed itself completely into an insurance company.” He continued, “Surely they can’t be persuaded by the merits of the arguments, since the alleged Social Security crisis is a phantom that can’t survive a serious round of fact-checking.”
Between and betwixt the flurry of news reports, AARP issued a clarification which seemed to confirm their openness to make changes to Social Security. That statement has not been revised.
Also, some organizations, in their own discussions, noted that AARP was instrumental in passage of Medicare Part D which created the infamous “doughnut hole” that requires seniors to pay full price for medications after reaching a certain limit. With the high cost of certain medications these days, that limit became a hurdle that many seniors could not overcome. It is not known (or at least I could not find data) how many seniors may have died because they could not purchase essential medications.
AARP benefits from its support of Part D by offering a Part D prescription drug plan.
In a conference call this morning (Hawaii time), leaders of several organizations made statements excerpted below seeking clarification of the AARP position (click the link for full audio, courtesy of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign):
Eric Kingson, Co-chair of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign: “Given the economic challenges facing today’s older people, we should focus on how inadequate the nation’s retirement income system is to deal with the very serious risks confronting them. Instead of seeming to position itself as a reasonable inside deal maker that is open to benefit cuts, AARP should be educating about the need to selectively improve Social Security – the one economic security institution that works quite well.
Max Richtman, Acting CEO of NCPSSM: “While AARP is among the nation’s largest lobbyists, it clearly does not speak for all of America’s seniors. Seniors of all political persuasions, and even voters across all age groups, do not support cutting Social Security benefits. Offering up Social Security benefit cuts to gain access to closed- door discussions, where Let’s Make a Deal politics has become the norm, is not the way to address strengthening a program that touches the lives of virtually every American family.
ARA Executive Director Ed Coyle: “Our members hope that AARP will directly answer some basic questions. Do you support any cuts in benefits? Do you support raising the retirement age? Do you support means testing? These are questions that any senior’s organization ought to be prepared to answer directly.”
Bobbie Brinegar, Executive Director of OWL: “The Voice of Midlife and Older Women sincerely hopes that the Wall Street Journal’s depiction of what AARP is undertaking regarding Social Security was off base. Surely AARP would not want to disrespect their members’ wishes.”
Nancy Altman, Co-chair of the Strengthen Social Security Campaign: “Americans are overwhelmingly united in their position on Social Security…Politicians who think they can take cover through leading groups in Washington do so at their peril.”
AARP released a statement that included this problematic paragraph admitting that they are open to change:
"It has long been AARP´s policy that Social Security should be strengthened to provide adequate benefits and that it is sufficiently financed to ensure solvency with a stable trust fund for the next 75 years. It has also been a long held position that any changes would be phased in slowly, over time, and would not affect any current or near term beneficiaries.
A statement from Jackie Boland, AARP HI Associate State Director, received just minutes ago suggests that they have been hot on the emails as well, it closely resembles the nationally released statement and contains a similar paragraph:
For years, we have maintained that long-term solvency is essential to protecting and strengthening Social Security for all generations and we have urged elected officials to confront the program’s challenges in a way that is fair for current seniors and future generations. Our long-held policy is that Social Security should be strengthened and that it its solvency can be ensured with a stable trust fund for the next 75 years. Any changes to this critical lifeline should be phased in slowly, over time so they would not affect any current or near-term beneficiaries.
When AARP supported Medicare Part D they lost a substantial portion of their membership in protest. Perhaps this is another such occasion. Although AARP projects itself as a senior advocacy organization it has also struggled with the conflict of interest that results because it derives its income from selling insurance policies and other products to its members. That was a divisive issue with Part D and may arise again with the current controversy.
(Note: this article reflects my personal opinion and has not been endorsed by any organization I am associated with.)
Why is anyone surprised AARP was in favor of Medicare part D. AARP is owned by health care giant United Health Care, and UHC has made billions off of Medicare part D. While AARP projects itself as a senior advocacy organization it is nothing more than a marketing arm of UHC and UHC is a big advocate for the privatization of Social Security.