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AARP's America--The Reality

William D. Novelli


Contact: AARP Media Relations, 202-434-2560,

Robert Samuelson's commentary on AARP (November 16) misses the point(s) regarding the implications of an aging society.

At AARP, we are embarked on a program of positive social change, not delay. We are working hard to make America better for all generations—through state and federal advocacy, community service and volunteerism and providing people with information to help them age successfully. That's why we developed Reimagining America: AARP's Blueprint for the Future.

Our Blueprint is not a "precise agenda" for what ought to be done. We don't write legislation. That's not our role. But we have outlined a thoughtful framework for change, describing major challenges facing our country and how to meet them. Please read it and judge for yourself.

We agree that there is a need to adapt to the realities of improved health and longer life expectancies. There are lots of ideas worthy of discussion. We favor many of them and oppose others. We believe, for example, that proposals to save money by canceling Medicare prescription drug coverage before it begins would have the opposite effect of keeping people independent and thus cost more money in the long run. It's the perfect example of being penny wise and pound foolish.

Some ideas, like pension reform, are underway in Congress. Other changes are occurring because of Medicare and other reforms. There is movement toward new health information technology and more focus on disease prevention and management of chronic conditions. There were 9 percent fewer nursing home residents on Medicaid in 2004 than there were in 1994, despite a 23 percent increase in the population 75 and older. And we're working with major companies to create opportunities for older workers. In other words, we are already seeing major changes that help mitigate our long-term challenges.

The fact that people are living longer—and by and large better—than previous generations is a significant accomplishment. It is due in large part to the success of the very programs—Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and others—that some propose slashing. They have improved the quality of life for generations of America's older adults. They also benefit family members who otherwise would have to provide more of their own resources to assist older relatives. The real question ought to be: Can we afford not to sustain the monumental progress in the health and well-being of America's aging population and their families?

Medicare and Medicaid insure over 80 million Americans. Of course they come with a cost. Some argue that they will bust the budget. So, what should we do, deny health care to 80 million more Americans? Instead, we need to make needed improvements in Medicare and Medicaid now, as called for in our Blueprint. There are ways to make Medicare and Medicaid more efficient and more effective, and we need to come together to make it happen. That's why AARP and its 36 million members have much to contribute. We need to demand and create change, to make our systems and programs work even better.

The rising costs of Medicare and Medicaid reflect the exploding costs of health care generally. So, by transforming the health care system, we can better control Medicare and Medicaid spending. Agreement on this point is building, but some believe that since the country hasn't done it in the past, we won't be able to do it in the future. Does this make sense? We as Americans can't just throw up our hands and say it can't be done. We need to explore positive ideas that will move our country forward—toward a society where everyone can look forward to aging with dignity and purpose. We believe that Americans of all ages deserve a future with quality health care and a retirement system we can count on.

Those like Mr. Samuelson who frequently tell us that the sky is falling do serve the useful purpose of calling attention to America's problems. Our mission at AARP is to improve the quality of life for all as we age, so our job is to do something about the problems. If that qualifies us as a "dangerous lobby" then so be it. But, we see it as our mission to tackle the difficult issues in order to make our society better for today's and future generations of older Americans.

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