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Why AARP Said ‘Yes’ to Medicare Prescription Drug Bill

By William D. Novelli, Chief Executive Officer, AARP

There has been almost as much "analysis" of AARP's support for the just-passed Medicare prescription drug bill as there was of the bill itself. Our support has generated criticism from both the left and right, including some of our traditional allies. But we made the right decision. We will weather this storm and move on.

Many of the criticisms are coming our way because the issue is a political football for the 2004 elections. Some opponents of the legislation are charging that it will destroy Medicare. These scare tactics are designed to alarm seniors and create a furor against AARP. In response, we are telling our members the truth and countering misinformation about what is in the bill.

AARP supported this legislation for one reason and one reason only - it will provide important prescription drug coverage and financial relief for millions of current and future Medicare beneficiaries. Though certainly not perfect, the bill represents an historic breakthrough after years of partisan gridlock in Congress and an important milestone in the nation's commitment to strengthen and expand health security for older Americans and their families.

There have been many accusations against us made by opponents of the bill. One is that we are out of touch with our 35 million members and acted without consulting them. Nothing could be further from the truth. We know that our credibility with both policy makers and our members depends on correctly representing members' views. Of course, no large organization can truly speak for every one of its members, but talking with and listening to our members is a priority at AARP. That's why we conduct frequent surveys, focus groups and individual interviews. We know that a majority of our members, younger and older, want this drug coverage in Medicare. While there was not unanimity of support for all aspects of the bill, one thing did stand out - AARP members told us they were tired of waiting for Congress to fix this problem, keep its promise and craft the perfect bill. They said they needed help now.

The second bit of misinformation making the rounds is that we support the legislation in order to accrue financial benefit. That too, is false. There is no connection between our policy decisions and our marketing of insurance and other products. Our social mission drives our for-profit activities - not the other way around. We are proud of the offerings we provide. Millions of Americans have AARP insurance for expenses Medicare doesn't cover. And through our pharmacy service, AARP members have saved $402 million in 2003 alone on prescription drugs.

The money generated by our for-profit arm goes into serving our members with education, information and services they need to make their lives better. For example, these revenues helped us lead the fight for national "Do Not Call" legislation. It has funded our work to protect the elderly and poor children from being dropped from Medicaid rolls. And we have used these revenues to curtail the activities of predatory lenders.

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