My AARP True Confession

By now readers will have noticed that I hardly ever have anything nice to say about AARP. I do sometimes cite their studies, which provide some valuable information. But I’ve also bashed them several times, both here on Unsilent Generation and in Mother Jones, for making money by selling insurance–an inherent conflict of interest for a group that is supposed to represent older Americans’ interests in health care debates. I’ve even dissed their magazine, which to me always comes off as a Cosmo wannabe for old farts. 

AARP's Temple of the Geezers. Photo by Kimbar from Flickr.

AARP's Temple of the Geezers. Photo by Kimbar from Flickr.

I can tell from the comments I’ve gotten (not to mention the hundreds of oldsters who burned their AARP membership cards when the group supported Bush’s Medicare drug bill) that I’m not the only one who feels this way. In response to my latest post about AARP, reader George Fulmore remarks that “AARP doesn’t have one of the largest, most impressive buildings in downtown Washington, D.C., primarily by being a supporter for the elderly. From the start, AARP has been in the insurance business and has been profitable.” (It’s true–AARP’s HQ looks like some kind of castle, complete with courtyards and turrets, and takes up a full city block. You don’t build a place like that just off of $16 membership fees.)

In view of all this, I think I need to come clean with George and the rest of my readers: Hello, my name is Jim, and I am an AARP member.

That’s right, like millions of other American elders, I have developed a dependency on AARP. In fact, I’m not only a member, but also a willing participant in their insurance scams. I have not one, but two types of  AARP Medicare insurance: Medigap supplemental insurance, and a Part D prescription plan. 

Why do I do this, knowing what I know? I really don’t have much of an answer. Part of it is fear and loathing of the insurance industry, which over time I have experienced as a bunch of con artists and double crossers in the health, auto, life, and home areas. I realize, of course, that AARP is merely a middleman, which works in partnership with United Healtcare. But even though I know better, I feel more comfortable dealing with AARP than dealing directly with the insurance companies. 

Most important, I think, is the fact that when you call up AARP you actually talk to a live human being. And most of the time the people answering the phone sound like real people, not programmed sales staff. If they can’t answer your questions, they politely pass you along to another real person. This is unheard of in this day and age–speaking to two live people in one phone call. I suspect this is a major selling point for a lot of people, especially older people who grew up in an age before impersonal automated phone systems. I know it’s a pretty flimsy standard on which to base my choice of an insurance provider. But then again, in the United States, the bar is set so low that it doesn’t take much.

I’d sincerely like to overcome my AARP habit, but I don’t think I’m ready yet to make the break. All I can say is that I look forward to the day when all parts of Medicare take their place in a true and complete single-payer system, with the insurance companies left out in the cold–and AARP with them. Then I’ll be first in line to sign up for AARP Anonymous.

10 responses to “My AARP True Confession

  1. AARP makes lots and lots of money from insurance sales. Their 2006 annual report showed they earned $403 million in something they call “royalties and service provider relationship management fees.”

    This is a sophisticated way to say: “commissions”.

    The 2008 annual report showed a substantial increase in revenue according to their annual report: AARP’s total operating revenue in 2008 reached just over $1.08 billion. Royalty revenues rose from the prior year to $653 million while membership dues ($249 million) and publication advertising revenues ($120 million) remained relatively stable.”

    AARP is the largest nonprofit insurance agency in the United States.

  2. Did you see this?
    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0609/24281.html
    Can’t quite figure out whether it is good that they are going to bat for generics, or
    Bad because they are hung up on such a narrow issue, or
    Bad because they threaten to torpedo health reform on a non-central issue.
    I am inclined toward the last.

  3. Jim,

    You will get a shock if you call the AARP to ask about supplemental insurance if you are being denied a kidney transplant because you only have Medicare and no other insurance to cover the 20% co-pay for a transplant. Most kidney transplant centers offer transplant for people up to 70 years old, but will not even make an appointment to see you if you can’t prove that you have supplementary insurance to pay for the 20% of the transplant that Medicare refuses to pay. For no reason that makes financial sense, except perhaps to the people profiting from dialysis, Medicare pays 100% of kidney dialysis for any American in kidney failure but only 80% of a kidney transplant! Since dialysis costs Medicare $72,000 per year per patient, and maintaining a person after a kidney transplant, only costs Medicare $15,000 a year, and we currently have over half a million people in the US attached to dialysis machines, the savings to Medicare would be in the billions of dollars if these patients could get a transplant. Since virtually all people in kidney failure are totally disabled and eligible for Social Security, the actual savings to the taxpayer if these people could regain their health and careers is billions more. Also, this is Medicare money that could be used for other diseases.

    The AARP could save tens of thousands of lives and save Medicare billions of dollars if they would sell supplementary insurance to people who are in kidney failure and over 55.

    If you are one of the over 200,000 people over 55, (AARP’s age range), in kidney failure and need a kidney transplant to get off the dialysis machine which can only partially take the place of a functioning kidney, try calling AARP as my aunt did. Here’s how she describes the phone call, “I called AARP about supplemental medical insurance. The first thing I was told, ‘Before we discuss the plan I would like to inform you that you must be able to answer ‘No’ on the application to the End Stage Renal Disease question in order to be eligible. Are you on kidney dialysis or have kidney disease?’ Yes, abandon hope.

    If the AARP was serious about advocating for and saving the lives of seniors it would step up and offer the supplementary insurance needed for transplant to anyone over 55. Half the people in kidney failure in the US are over 55. Not only would this result in tens of thousands of transplants and lives saved, it would save all of us who are taxpayers, billions of dollars a year now wasted on the inferior and vastly more costly dialysis for people who are candidates for transplant, and are dying to get a transplant, but have no supplementary insurance.

  4. George Fulmore

    AARP is by far the largest membership organization for the elderly. NCPPSSM, I think, is a much better organization for elder’s political views, e.g., defense of SS and/or Medicare. How refreshing it is to have the confession about having AARP insurance knowing that it is probably no better than having it directly from an insurance company. Do you really think the “AARP” representatives that you talk to when you call are not being paid to be part of the insurance industry? A single-payer system would still need the AARPs of the world. There will be a place for them under national health care.

  5. Pingback: The Amazing Maze of US Health Care » Blog Archive » AARP and the NFIB – Waste and Opportunity

  6. Sorry But I have not liked AARP from when they started sending me invataions to joying.
    But I am going to joying Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC).

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  8. AARP is for seniors with money that can afford the offerings they provide – that simple. Most seniors cannot afford Supplemental Insurance, so they’re stuck with Original Medicare only or, if lucky enough geographically, a Medicare Advantage Plan, which needs membership volume to exist. This is why AARP is dead set against Advantage Plans; they offer Insurance type services for seniors without the premiums attached. Unfortunately, Congress has sided with AARP and would like to kill Advantage Plans. If anything, Advantage Plans should be allowed to expand geographically without State border restrictions; then you would see a more universal coverage based upon competition – an Rx the healthcare system needs. One other thought, if Social Security were some type of private annuity or retirement investment plan, what do you think AARP would be involved with? They would be totally on the bankers side.

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