You’ll remember that during the 2009 Summer of Hate over health care reform, when teabaggers were being coached to disrupt town hall meetings, some of the wrath was turned on the venerable AARP. Why? Because AARP had decided to endorse the principal bills being debated in the House and Senate at the time.
This endorsement was provisional on the bills’ promise of eventually closing the “gap” in Medicare Part D coverage. For those who haven’t been filled in on the gap — Medicare Part D as crafted by the Bush Administration helped pay for prescription drug costs up to $2,700 per year. Beyond that, the seniors were on their own until their costs reached $6,154. Any amount over $6,154 could be partly paid for under Medicare catastrophic coverage. But the $3,454 that fell into the “doughnut hole” had to come entirely out of the seniors’ pockets. One of the things the Affordable Care Act does is close (eventually) the “doughnut hole.” It has been shrunk a bit already.
Anyway, the closing of the Part D gap was given as the AARP’s principle reason for endorsing the bills, along with the bills’ promises to reduce waste and fraud and keep Medicare solvent generally.
AARP Chief Executive A. Barry Rand said the organization supports the House bill over other proposals because the measure does more to lower drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries, strengthen Medicare and bar insurance companies from denying people coverage because of their health or age. The bill also would lower premiums for Americans ages 50 to 64 who have to buy insurance in the private market and would create a voluntary long-term care insurance program.
The AARP attempted to hold some discussion forums on the health care reform issues, and teabaggers showed up and shouted down the speakers without hearing what they had to say.
One of the raps against AARP at the time — that they were endorsing health care reform to get more “Medigap” coverage — has resurfaced. Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee have released a report that challenges AARP’s tax-exempt status.
So, first they came for ACORN, then Planned Parenthood, and now the AARP.
Very basically, the claim is that since payments for Medicare Advantage plans will be cut, people will have to bail out of Medicare Advantage, and a lot of those people will fall back on a combination of regular Medicare and supplementary or “Medigap” insurance, and AARP is the biggest seller of Medigap insurance. Allahpundit of Hot Air summed it up in a headline — “GOP report: AARP stands to make $1 billion from ObamaCare, IRS should investigate.”
One hole in the logic here is that AARP also offers Medicare Advantage plans, which (the GOP says) from now on will be less profitable. And one does wonder how Republicans manage to demand cuts in Medicare one minute and then complain about “Obamacare” cutting Medicare the next minute without getting whiplash.
Several rightie bloggers today are salivating at the idea of destroying the AARP. They must be punished for endorsing bills sponsored by Democrats, of course. From RedState:
… thereâ€™s growing evidence that the policies supported by AARP â€” namely Obamacare â€” arenâ€™t nearly as popular among its target democraphic. According to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll this month, a majority of seniors have an unfavorable view of the law. Just 19 percent think the Medicare program will be better off under Obamacare.
The 19 percent figure probably comes from the March 2011 Kaiser tracking polls on health care reform, which breaks opinion down by age. But while it’s true that only 19 percent of seniors polled think health care reform will make Medicare better (see page 7), the percentage thinking Medicare will get worse also is a minority — 39 percent. The remainder don’t think it will make any difference to them. So it’s not like the entire senior citizen population is preparing to take to the streets to denounce the Affordable Care Act.
Full disclosure — I pay dues to AARP and get my dental coverage and auto roadside assistance through them. Which takes me to my next point — AARP is not an organization like ACORN that mostly involved urban minorities, nor is it Planned Parenthood, which primarily provides reproductive health services for women of modest means. AARP is an institution among the American middle class.
I couldn’t find a demographic breakdown of AARP members versus the senior population as a whole, but I suspect membership skews toward people who are not wealthy but who have some money to pay for things like AARP-sponsored insurance and travel packages. Joining the AARP when one turns 50 is practically an American middle-class right-of passage. The bulk of the Baby Boom generation is eligible now, I believe.
If AARP loses its tax-exempt status, I suspect a lot of member benefits will disappear or be priced out of reach. Does the GOP really want to risk pissing off a large part of middle-class Americans aged 50 and older?
Keep in mind also that if “Obamacare” were entirely repealed, seniors might have to return the prescription drug benefit rebate checks they’ve already received.
I think righties may find that AARP is not the vulnerable, low-hanging fruit that ACORN was and that Planned Parenthood may prove to be. So, bring it on, teabaggers. Let’s see what you’re made of.