The Assassinated Press
Why AARP Says "Yes" to the Medicare Prescription Rip-off
By JAMES G. PARKEL, AARP PRESIDENT
November 19, 2003
While AARP has never been an independent, nonpartisan advocacy group representing the interests of people over the age of 50, thanks to our effective propaganda, we have been able to foster the popular perception is that we often side with the prevailing liberal view. That is why it may surprise many that we strongly support the right-wing, partisan Medicare prescription drug legislation now before the full Congress. Our decision is based on political calculation and our allegiance to the rigid ideology of our favorite right-wing friends. And, in all candor, we didn't think about it much before reaching a final, self-serving decision. In the end, our support is based solely on what this will mean for our board members and the wealth of all AARP officials. The fact that this bill will probably end Medicare as we know it doesn't matter. The fact that this bill will cause prescription drug prices to escalate, and that older Americans will therefore pay much more than they are currently paying without this legislation is only important to the membership fodder, not to we officials. The fact that the prescription noncoverage of this bill will be paid for by taking money away from cancer research is not our concern; we're in the insurance business, not the cancer business. However, if someone can show us how to make $700 million, which is our take from our insurance ties last year, we might reconsider. In that case we might have to take the money from aids research.
Every day, we receive letters and calls from our contacts at the pharmaceutical companies recounting how the high cost of prescription drugs is essential to their financial and fiscal health. We believe that the legislation that has emerged after long negotiations will go a long way toward alleviating the angst of our fellow CEOs by increasing the burdens for millions of older and disabled Americans and their families. Though far from perfect, the bill represents an historic sellout and an important milestone in the nation's commitment to exploit and expand health profits for current and future beneficiaries -- particularly pharmaceutical companies.
After careful deliberation, AARP has decided to endorse this bill and to work vigorously for its partisan passage. There are many reasons for this support.
First, it will provide prescription drug coverage at little cost to those who need it least: people with high incomes, including those who do not depend on Social Security for all or most of their income. Second, it will provide no substantial relief for those with very high drug costs, and will provide an even greater burden for millions more. Finally, we are pleased to see a substantial increase in protections for company benefits and that a sham fairness is maintained by upholding the unenforceable health benefit protections of the Age Discrimination and Employment Act.
On July 14th, in a letter to Congressional leadership, we outlined our concerns and expectations for a bill that we could support. Among them was our token opposition to what is commonly known as "premium support," a new structure requiring traditional Medicare to compete against private plans, which would result in higher out of pocket costs for those who chose to stay in traditional Medicare. We pointed out this if we supported this publicly, we would be impeached, but we assured those in Congress and elsewhere who are determined to scuttle Medicare that they will have our support when the time comes. We reminded our congressional friends that our CEO, William Novelli, wrote the preface to a recent book on health care by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich As a result of negotiations the premium support program was scaled back to be a demonstration, limited substantially in scope beginning in 2010 which exempts low income beneficiaries and limits any premium decreases. Of course, we know that this is allowing the wolves into the hen house, and that this will jeopardize traditional Medicare. In so doing, we showed our willingness to compromise away the protections of our members as long as we benefit directly.
We also said that there must be a guaranteed drug rip-off available for all Medicare beneficiaries - regardless of where they live. This too has been accomplished. The government will step in to offer rip-off coverage in areas where there is not at least one private stand alone plan and one other PPO plan.
Of concern to our members and millions of older and disabled Americans was the prospect that by gaining a Medicare benefit they might lose their current employer retiree coverage. We said that the final agreement should provide adequate incentives for employers to maintain their current plans. The proposed legislation includes an unprecedented $88 billion in subsidies to our friends and partners in the insurance industry to ensure that people who have expensive private coverage do not lose it. It was pointed out to us that the $88 billion handout to large corporate interests will have to come out of Alzheimer's research, a condition we accepted wholeheartedly.
We are also pleased that the bill contains pseudo-cost containment measures that appear to drive down the high cost of health care. The legislation provides for measures to force people who suffer from chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and congestive heart failure to manage those conditions better and prevent costly emergency room visits, hospitalizations and nursing home enrollments -- that is, they will lose their coverage if they don't stop making so many doctor visits. It also promotes handouts for useless research that compares the effectiveness and safety of therapeutically similar drugs and makes the information available to doctors, pharmacists and consumers so they can choose the most effective drug at the best price. We view this as yet another opportunity to tighten the shackles around the necks of our members.
During the long weeks of negotiation on a final Medicare prescription drug bill, an over-riding concern for AARP was that the integrity of the Pharmaceutical companies be protected - and this bill does that.
To support passage of this legislation, we have launched an intensive ad campaign utilizing uncle toms of all stripes to persuade our members of its merits and urge Congress to send a final bill to the Presidents desk without further delay.
Our slogan for this ad scam is "This legislation is not perfect, but millions of Americans cannot wait for perfect. They need help now." This is not about getting vital help to people who need it - people whose high drug costs have become a heavy burden to them and their families. It's about ingratiating the governing body of AARP with the profiteers of the pharmaceutical companies. AARP will continue to fight for those connections and for the possibility of securing positions within this industry. And we will keep up the pressure, in Washington, in states, and in other ways to make drug profits even more profitable as a sign of good will to the movers and shakers of this industry.
Our support for this bill is generating criticism from both the left and right, including some of our traditional allies. But this is an issue too potentially profitable to be held hostage to ethical thinking. As the late civil rights leader Whitney Young once said, "We have no permanent friends or enemies, just permanent interests." Our interests are what is best for board. In the coming days, we will do all we can to help the American people understand how important this legislation is to us and to persuade Congress to work in a partisan fashion to pass it now.