Dear Mom & Dad…

As you know, I’ve had strong political opinions for most of my life. While I’ve always been ready to state my opinions and argue them, I’ve never asked you to take action on an issue I believe in. Until now. Because this one affects you, it affects me, and it will affect the lives of your new grandchildren. I urge you to call AARP and call your Congresspeople and tell them to leave Medicare alone.

You’re both members of AARP — Dad loves the discounts his membership entitles him to at the movies — and I’m sure that, like most members, you’ve always assumed that the organization would have your best interests at heart. Well… surprise, surprise… “your” advocate has hung you out to dry.

This week, William D. Novelli, Executive Director and CEO of AARP pledged the organization’s enthusiastic support to the deeply-flawed, Republican-sponsored Medicare bill. But whose interests did Mr. Novelli have in mind when he made this endorsement in your name? Consider these details as outlined by Representative Bernie Sanders:

  • The voluntary program would cost you a membership fee each month of approximately $35, or $420 per year
  • There will be a $250 deuctible
  • After you’ve paid the deductible, the new drug benefit will cover 75% of your costs up to $2200 per year
  • Any drug costs greater than $2200 and less than $5000 are NOT COVERED AT ALL
  • Costs greater than $5000 are covered 95%

Great deal, huh? There’s a specified “maximum out-of-pocket” limit on the plan of $3600 — with a little bit of fine print which says that you may have to pay more than the “maximum out-of-pocket” since you are still responsible for 5% of everything over $5000. So, if your drug expenses are $5000 per year, under this plan you’ll still have to come up with just about $4000. Now, the $1000 you’ll save is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also nothing to cheer about.

When you consider all the negatives of the plan, cheering becomes even less appropriate. For instance, coverage for low-income seniors is based on an onerous assets test ($6000 in total assets for individuals and $9000 for couples under 135% of the poverty level), which may leave many of the people who most need the benefit unable to claim it. In addition, there is means testing on the other end, too; seniors who earn more than $80,000 — or couples earning more than $160,000 — will have to pay higher premiums. On the surface that might seem okay, but these higher fees are being assessed on the people who likely paid more into the program over their working lives.

Being that this is a Republican bill, there are plenty of bonuses for the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. For starters, there’s $12 billion in “incentives” — read “slush fund” — to “encourage” HMOs and PPOs to provide more benefits to seniors. That’s money which is NOT going to seniors themselves. There’s also a continued prohibition against importing drugs from Canada and Europe, where the drugs are often half the price of the same prescritions here.

And get this: Unlike the Veterans Administration and Medicaid, Medicare is prohibited from using its enormous purchasing power to bargain with the pharmaceutical companies for the best prices. Forbidden? Gosh, I wonder who suggested that plan? I’d be willing to bet that it wasn’t seniors.

So, with all these negatives, why does AARP support the bill? Well, you see… AARP gets about 25% of its budget from dues-paying members, but it gets 27-30% from the insurance policies it hawks to its members, and another significant chunk from the pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies which advertise in its magazine, Modern Maturity.

AARP’s leadership, along with members of the Republican Party keep telling us that we have to do this NOW because if we don’t pass this bill NOW the opportunity won’t come around again for many years. And why the hell not? Maybe the idiotic demagogues in the Republican party realize that there’s enough disenchantment with their ham-fisted mismanagement of the economy, the environment, the war on terror, etc… that THEY might not have the opportunity for a few years to ram this horrible bill down the throats of today’s seniors and their grandchildren who will be paying for this boondoggle for the rest of their lives.

But maybe there’s more: maybe it has to do with AARP’s CEO and his incestuous relationship with Newt Gingrich. Newt’s most recent book, Saving Lives & Saving Money carries a foreword from Mr. Novelli, praising Gingrich’s book as “bold, enlightening and provocative”. Gingrich is the man who, in 1995 said that Medicare should “wither on the vine”; do you believe Newt has changed his mind? Do you believe that Mr. Novelli, the man who represents 33 million seniors should be praising the plans of a man who aims to destroy one of the major benefits which have brought seniors out of the dog-food-eating days of the 1960s and 70s.

Congress is rushing into this action with their eyes on the coming political campaigns, rather than on the legislation itself. There is no rush to pass this bad legislation, especially since IT WILL NOT EVEN TAKE EFFECT UNTIL 2006! The sickest seniors who feel time’s pressure on their lives may not live long enough to see this benefit take effect. And yet, as I am writing this, the Senate is about to take up the vote for passage of this bill. Opposition has been bi-partisan and extremely close. The bill passed the Republican-controlled House by 5 votes, only after serious arm-twisting by the President and his attack dog, Mr. Cheney — neither of whom will have to suffer with the effects of this bill.

So, Mom & Dad: take some action. It might be too late to affect the outcome of this debate, but let the AARP know that it does not represent you. Let your Congresspeople know that, although you are senior citizens you will not thank them for this abominable law. Let all of them know that you will be working for the day when this bill will be repealed and a true, fair, comprehensive solution to the prescription drug crisis will become the law of the land.