AARP To Republicans: Thanks, But We're Not That Worried

The AARP has seen Republicans' pitch for senior support on health care, and it has not been won over to the GOP's vision of ObamaCare.

Republicans are making a health care pitch to seniors, floating a "Seniors' Health Care Bill of Rights" in an op-ed penned by Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele in the Washington Post yesterday, most likely seizing on the fact that Obama has struggled to woo seniors to his plan and seeking to galvanize a voting bloc against the president's plan. A Gallup poll released late last month showed seniors to be the least likely age group to support health care reform, with many thinking it will reduce their access to care and raise costs.

But the AARP, one of the more powerful lobbying groups in DC, especially on health care, thanked and agreed with Steele on the points of his Bill of Rights--such as no cutting of Medicare and no "dictating the terms of end-of-life care--and said the proposals from President Obama don't threaten to do any of the things Steele suggests seniors should be worried about.

"We are pleased nothing in the bills would bring about the type of scenarios the RNC is concerned about," AARP says.

Opponents of Obama's reforms say they'll cut Medicare; Democrats insist Medicare spending would only be lowered through cutting waste. Based on what it's seen so far, AARP is fully on board with Democrats here: "Nothing we've seen in these bills would cut Medicare benefits," an AARP official said; in a full statement yesterday, the group stressed how Obama's reforms would help Medicare.

Whether AARP supports Obama's reforms has actually been debated in this melee of facts, less-than-facts, and things in between. AARP hasn't endorsed any of the proposals currently in Congress; it's waiting to see a bill at the end of the sausage-making process that's favorable--especially one that deals well with Medicare, from its standpoint. But it's on board with the overall project.

The GOP likely went into this contract-making business knowing the AARP would be hesitant, based on what it's said so far. Prominently on AARP's website, one can find a list of "myths" about how damaging Obama's reforms would be, spread by opponents of the effort--including death panels and the gutting or elimination of Medicare.

Here's AARP Executive Vice President John Rother appearing on MSNBC to talk about Steele's proposal:

Here's the full AARP-released statement from Rother:

"AARP agrees with Chairman Michael Steele's goals for reforming our health care system, and we are pleased nothing in the bills that have been proposed would bring about the scenarios the RNC is concerned about.  Older Americans should not be unfairly burdened by the costs of fixing our broken health care system.  Medicare should not be cut arbitrarily to fund health care reforms that do nothing to help older Americans.  And no one--whether a government bureaucrat or a private health insurer--should come between you and your doctor when making important health care decisions.

"That's why we're supporting provisions in the health care bills that would improve Medicare benefits, including closing the prescription drug program's dreaded doughnut hole--a gap in coverage that forces millions of older Americans to pay the full cost of their prescription drugs on top of their monthly premiums.  Other smart provisions would add needed preventive benefits to Medicare so older Americans can get the screenings and tests they need without worrying about costly bills.  We also support plans to increase pay for doctors with Medicare patients and encourage medical students to go into primary care so that everyone in Medicare can continue to see their own doctor.

"We can pay for these improvements without adding to our deficit by rooting out the waste, fraud and abuse that are driving up older Americans' Medicare premiums and other health care bills.  That means cutting subsidies for private insurers, rewarding hospitals and doctors for providing follow-up care to prevent unnecessary readmissions to the hospital and lowering the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs that are straining the federal budget and our own wallets.

"AARP will not support a health care bill that cuts Medicare benefits or puts bureaucracy between you and your doctor.  We're glad to have Chairman Steele and his colleagues voice their support for older Americans and we look forward to their support of health care legislation that improves the health care system for Americans of all ages."