Will the real AARP please stand up?

Published 7:58 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2019


Guest columnist

“To tell the Truth,” a popular TV game show from the annals of history, featured a panel of celebrity judges who would try to correctly identify contestants with unusual jobs or life experiences.

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The twist was that while one of the contestants was sworn to tell the truth, two other impostors were also on the show and it was their job to fool the panelists by pretending to be the real contestant.

At the end of each show, panelists would vote on who they thought was the truth-teller.

Then the host would say to the three contestants: “Will the real circus performer please stand up?”

The three contestants would bob up and down; one would act like he was going to stand and then quickly slide back into his seat and then they would all do that until finally, the real circus performer stood up and was revealed.

It’s what needs to happen with AARP which promotes itself as a simple advocacy group looking out for the interests of older Americans yet harms seniors by supporting policies like Obamacare — which resulted in making one in three Kentuckians dependent on Medicaid — or opposing changes such as a recent proposal to lower out-of-pocket prescription-drug costs.

What gives?

Why would AARP oppose a rule requiring rebates paid by pharmaceutical companies to insurers through middlemen known as pharmacy benefits managers be shared with patients in a way that reduces their out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs?

How could they oppose such a basic idea if they’re really just a simple advocacy group whose sole mission is to advocate for seniors’ best interests?

Follow the money and find an answer.

What very few Kentucky seniors know is that AARP receives most of its revenue from UnitedHealth rather than membership dues.

AARP in 2017 collected $627 million from UnitedHealth, the nation’s largest health insurer which pays the seniors’ group royalties for the right to market its insurance plans using AARP’s name and logo, compared to $301 million in membership dues.

Chris Jacobs, founder and CEO of Juniper Research Group, reviewed AARP’s financial statements and reported the group made more than $4.5 billion in income since 2015 just from selling health insurance plans and generating investment income from UnitedHealth plan premiums.

Which explains why AARP paid folks to run around at this year’s Fancy Farm political barbecue as part of its #StopRxGreed propaganda campaign, which blames only drug companies for those higher out-of-pocket prescription costs which affect seniors on fixed incomes the most.

There’s certainly enough blame to go around when it comes to higher healthcare costs in general and prescription medicines in particular.

This columnist recently expressed disapproval of some of the practices of pharmaceutical companies — particularly when it comes to brand-name drug manufacturers attempting to keep cheaper generics off the market.

Still, it’s dishonest for AARP to claim advocacy for seniors yet oppose policies that would lower up-front prescription costs, all because it would cut into insurers’ profits, which UnitedHealth — AARP’s deep pocket — and its middlemen oppose.

In a recent op-ed, AARP Kentucky state president Charlotte Whitaker admonishes: “No Kentuckian should be forced to choose between putting food on the table or buying a lifesaving medication.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Unfortunately, Whittaker can’t go all the way with her argument; she can only blame one party — “Big Pharma,” as she puts it — and will, understandably, not bite the hand that feeds her group by even mentioning insurers or their middlemen as significant contributors to higher out-of-pocket prescription costs.

Currently, I’m being inundated with mail from AARP wanting me to join their organization.

For me, the bobbing and weaving has ended; the real AARP has stood up and my response: No thanks.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.