Columnist Morris turns to conspiracy theories about AARP

By Ken Mitchell

One of the hallmarks of the current healthcare reform debate has been the continuous stream of misinformation and misunderstandings about the various proposals – and organizations – in the discussion.

Columnist Dick Morris has now turned to conspiracy theories – including one naming AARP — in a last-ditch effort to keep the healthcare system status quo, with insurers making money by denying coverage to the sick and jacking up prices for the old. They are failing, as the latest efforts of the Senate Finance Committee have shown, and for good reason.

Every day, we hear from a diverse group of older Americans representing communities across the nation who need Medicare strengthened, who are crushed by soaring health costs and prescription drug prices, who are told they can’t get coverage because they’re too old or too sick, and who may have access to the doctor of their choice threatened due to a massive 21 percent payment cut to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

Despite Morris’s obvious attempt to distract people from the need for reform, let us be clear: The only benefit AARP is looking for in health reform is relief for all Americans. Period.

In the current healthcare debate, AARP is focused on goals, not the individual agenda of any elected official. We believe the nation needs healthcare reform.

In Georgia alone, more than 270,000 residents between the ages of 50 and 64 do not have health insurance. And thousands of seniors fall into the Doughnut Hole each year, a prescription drug coverage gap that forces patients to pay full price for medications even while they’re paying premiums.

While AARP hasn’t yet endorsed a specific bill now before Congress, we have been urging members of both major parties to work together on health reform. In fact, AARP has endorsed 38 different pieces of legislation related to health issues so far this year, 19 of which have bipartisan sponsorship.

As part of his conspiracy theory, Morris claims that AARP is against Medicare Advantage. As usual, his broad-brush attack misses the mark.

AARP has always believed that managed care, like Medicare Advantage, is a good option for some people in Medicare – we just don’t believe the taxpayer should be giving excess subsidies to those private insurers to the tune of billions of dollars.

Currently, the government supplies a subsidy of approximately 14 percent to private insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage. AARP believes that subsidy should be incrementally phased out over a number of years.

AARP believes that, given the enormous cost of healthcare, we can’t afford to underwrite the profits of private insurance companies. At the same time, we believe that change should be gradual, giving both insurance companies and their policyholders time to adjust.

We’ve all seen that the issues of healthcare reform are complex, and the proposed solutions are sometimes confusing. It can be tempting to reduce the debate to shouted slogans and emotional outbursts. In the long run, though, we need to grapple with the issues in all their complexity.

AARP was started more than 50 years ago to fight for older Americans and their need for health care – our fight continues today. We have taken our stands based on the needs of our members, and we are prepared to get involved in the debates over complex issues to ensure that our members are well-served.

It’s been that way from more than half a century.

[Ken Mitchell is state director of AARP in Georgia.]

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