Bertie Evans

A Real Senior Moment

The authors, all people with Medicare, are also members of the Medicare Rights Center's Consumer Action Board.

Like many of the 41 million Americans with Medicare, we feel betrayed by AARP.

The Washington leadership of the powerful senior citizens' organization has opted to join forces with the White House to steamroll legislation through Congress. It is legislation that may irrevocably damage Medicare, all for a drug benefit that is meager or worse for most Americans.

Most of the 35 million people who belong to AARP are drawn to the group's insurance programs, prescription drug deals and hotel discounts. These and other businesses bring AARP hundreds of millions of dollars annually in revenue. Despite this membership, it isn't clear that many older Americans have retained AARP's Washington politicos to serve as their political voice. We have not. AARP is a big business; it shouldn't pretend to represent its members' political interests, few of whom have been asked their view of this dangerous Medicare overhaul.

Checking in with members is not the way of a top-down, Washington-centric organization. It appears that doing its homework isn't either. AARP has just endorsed what will be a 1,000-page bill that not only hasn't been reviewed; it hasn't even been fully drafted. Yet, AARP is already in league with political operatives at the White House working to force Congress to vote on this massive legislation.

AARP does not speak for us.

This legislation is bad for people with Medicare. And the damage it will cause to the stability of this valuable entitlement program is not a price worth paying for a paltry drug benefit. Many, many people with Medicare are left worse off, and the only clear winners are the pharmaceutical industry (which will reap an estimated $139 billion in additional profits) and the insurance industry (which stands to receive added bonuses of $12 billion to enter the Medicare market). For consumers, the worst is yet to come.

Here are just some of the toxic provisions that have been leaked out by the Congressional leadership about the bill:

  • Most people with Medicare will not receive any net drug benefit under the legislation.

  • Many of the poorest seniors will be shut out of their Medicare drug benefits by bureaucratic obstacles.

  • Nearly six million people with Medicare face increases of 30 percent in Medicare premiums under the "demonstration" move to privatization.

  • Millions of retirees face losing existing benefits. And, finally,

  • The table is set to continue the dismantling of Medicare's reliable benefit package in the very near future.

We do not believe that the ideal should defeat the good. But this bill is not good. It is worse than no bill at all.

If the White House, the Congressional leadership and the AARP executive staff had confidence in their plan to overhaul Medicare, they would support Minnesota Republican Congressman Gil Gutknecht's proposal to defer a vote and let members of Congress consider the legislation and take it home "for a test drive."

The same Congress will return to Washington in January. Let members of Congress hear from their constituents. AARP may want to listen to its members. If the legislation is good for the public interest, not just private interests, it will pass.

Sadly, there are obvious reasons why neither the White House nor the Congressional leadership nor AARP's leadership want this to happen. Sunshine will expose how dangerous a bill this is.

Bertie Evans, RN, is the Community Case Manager of Wichita County, Kansas, and an advocate for the seniors attempting to obtain prescription medication from pharmaceutical companies. Robert Porter is president of the United Seniors of Oregon and president of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council Retirees. Gene Smith is president of the Senior Statesmen of Virginia, a group that speaks for senior citizens in the Commonwealth. Dick Wisott is president of the Colorado nonprofit, Seniors Inc.

Let AARP know what you think about this bill. If you're a member, tell them you're quitting. If you're too young to be eligible, tell them you'll never join. National hotline: 1-800-424-3410.
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