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.
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.