AARP Protected Itself First During Health Care Reform

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Even if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down President Obama’s Health Care Reform law on Thursday, there are controversies regarding the process of making the bill that we had to pass to know what was in it that will continue.  Georgia Congressman Phil Gingrey, along with Republican Senator Tom Coborn of Oklahoma have some questions for the American Association of Retired Persons, commonly known as AARP, regarding their efforts during the lead up to the bill passing Congress.

AARP bills itself as the preeminent organization representing the interests of Americans senior citizens.  As more is learned about groups and industries that were able to carve out protections for their status quo in exchange for support, Republicans in Congress are attempting to determine if the group that was supposed to be protecting seniors’ interests were actually looking after the immediate self interests of the organization.

A letter sent Monday from the powerful House Ways and Means Committee to the AARP bluntly states that the organization is set to receive a $1 Billion dollar “windfall” because of the act’s passage over the next ten years, and directly questions AARP’s actions in lobbying for passage of the bill.  Specifically, details are requested on lobbying efforts which conflict with public statements of neutrality, as well as statements that AARP members were generally split to supportive of the measure.

The letter included several examples of public statements versus quotes from internal communications on the same topics such as:

The official statement that “AARP has developed its positions independently based on what we believe is in the best interest of our members and all people age 50+”.  Internal emails showed calls from  members were against the bill 14-1.  Other emails indicate that despite a close working relationship, AARP needed to “keep a little space between us and the White House” as the organization is “more influential when we are seen as independent.”

Chief Operating Officer Thomas C. Nelson wrote to a Republican member of Congress in October 2009 that less than one half of one percent of members were cancelling their membership due to the bill, and “indicators point to little impact on overall membership.”  Just before that letter was sent, an email to the White House Office of Health Reform indicated that while there was a “trickle” of folks cancelling over AARP’s support of the bill, the number “is likely to grow significantly in the weeks ahead.”  The email further urged “keep this information close.”

CEO Barry Rand’s statement to Congressman was “We are a strictly non-partisan organization. We do our work in a very public way.”  An email from Jim Messina, White House Deputy Chief of Staff, demands to AARP “We need Barry Rand to go meet with Ben Nelson personally and just lay it on the line.  ‘We will be with you and we will protect you. But if you kill this bill, seniors will not forget.’ We are at 59 (votes), we have to have him.”  

The letter then requests an explanation for the apparent “incongruent public statements” and correspondence with the White House senior staff regarding AARP’s political activities.  It then asks for all emails and meeting transcripts from the organizations regarding Republican Congressional inquiries and/or those from the House Ways and Means Committee, and also those regarding the same communications with the White House during that time.

At issue is AARP’s true independence, and whether they represent what is best for seniors or what is best for the organization.  At the time, facing a Democratic House, Senate, and Executive Branch, doing what was best for the organization was cooperating with a clear Democratic power structure. 

What was best for seniors will remain up for debate among partisans.  But ignoring and obfuscating the “vast majority” of their members’ opposition says that the leadership of AARP thought their concerns were clearly more important than those of their members.


  1. jiminga says:

    After discovering only 5% of AARP’s revenue comes from member dues with the balance from endorsements and direct associations with insurers, we cancelled our lifetime memberships. They act in their best interests, not the interests of their members. It is nothing more than a front for insurance companies, funneling suckers to them.

  2. Calypso says:

    Another vote saying AARP is nothing more than a marketing company which dupes seniors into various products based on their ‘endorsement’.

    The only reason I was ever in it was because a one-year membership was given to me as a 50th birthday present. Once the year was over I ditched all their renewal solicitations.

  3. seenbetrdayz says:

    I’d been thinking something was fishy with the AARP years ago, when they told me I could become a member. I’m 25 years old, lol.

      • seenbetrdayz says:


        Wouldn’t that make them the AAARP?
        American association of (almost) retired persons.
        (eventually) Retired persons.
        (never) Retired persons – which is probably most accurate for my age group, at the rate things are going

  4. SallyForth says:

    All of Washington’s special interest groups have special interests, aka “making money”. I’m not very familiar with what the AARP does in addition to offering insurance to its members, but it seems to be the only high-profile organization that has any kind of voice for senior citizens. Does anybody on here know of any others? Granted I don’t keep up with this stuff, but just curious.

  5. saltycracker says:

    AARP serves seniors like NASCAR serves race fans. Advocacy is a great marketing tool.

    ……….though in a interview years later by the Des Moines Register, Senator Simpson remained “troubled by AARP’s practices”, calling AARP “the biggest marketing operation in America and money-maker” and an organization whose practices are “the greatest abuse of American generosity I witnessed in my time in the U.S. Senate.”

    Thomas C. Nelson, Past Ex-Officio / Past COO AARP Foundation & AARP respectively, received $1,176,614 salary/compensation from the charity. This is the 5th most money given by any charity to the head of a charity, according to Charity Watch. It includes a separation payment of $682,285

    • saltycracker says:

      Don’t know if this is the right group to challenge a non-profit but AARP sure runs way over the line playing advocate of a group that is defined younger @ yr. for the owner’s gain.

      Big non-profits don’t usually put such an effort forth to advocate legislation for their for profit division. The lines are very obscure and something is wrong. Let’s put the officers, boards and salaries in the sunlight.

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