OLYMPIA, Wash. - The nation's leading senior's lobby, AARP, is
using its considerable clout in the health care reform debate by
endorsing the Affordable Health Care for America Act, set to be
considered by the U.S. House of Representatives this weekend. This is
the first time the group has endorsed a particular bill. Washington
state is home to 935,000 of AARP's 40 million members; the group has
determined most of them would benefit if the bill passed.
Ingrid McDonald, advocacy director for AARP Washington, says protecting
Medicare for those 65 and older is one of the group's top priorities,
and she feels this legislation does that.
"Unless we make some smart changes now to make the program more
efficient and viable, it won't be around for people's children and
grandchildren. This health reform package would secure the program for
the future and improve it immediately for current beneficiaries, by
closing the 'donut hole' and other measures."
The "donut hole" is coverage gap that leaves some seniors on Medicare
paying their drug costs out of pocket. AARP acknowledges that any House
bill still would have to be combined with Senate legislation to create
a final bill.
In a state like Washington, where almost one-third of the population is
over age 50, the proposed changes are significant, adds McDonald. She
says insurance companies could not charge an older person any more than
twice what a younger person pays for the same health coverage, or deny
coverage to anyone based on pre-existing conditions, which means more
adults could get insurance.
"I talk to way too many people who are in their fifties or in early
sixties, who are completely uninsured, and that's a very challenging
place to be. This bill would provide a lot of help making products more
accessible and affordable, so people can protect themselves and get the
care they need."
Critics of the endorsement argue AARP is supporting it because the
organization stands to profit when Medicare is cut by $400 billion,
driving seniors to spend more on Medicare supplementary coverage, which
AARP promotes for royalty fees. Some also criticize the cuts to
Medicare at a time when baby boomers are joining the ranks of the
retired and increasing demands on the program. But, supporters say the
bill would create more competition, lower costs, and improve quality.
Other high-profile endorsements for the bill came Wednesday from the
American Medical Association and American Cancer Society.