“Saturday Night Live” is known for many things, especially the commercial spoofs that for decades have lampooned merchandise and marketing trends. One of the most iconic featured Chevy Chase as a pitchman hawking a product that was both “a dessert topping and a floor wax.”
That kind of absurd duality is funny. That kind of duality in a political group is dangerous and calls into question the advocacy in which they engage.
Everyone thinks AARP, the group formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, represents the interests of millions of seniors, making it one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington. People don’t realize it’s also an insurance company and rakes in hundreds of millions selling Medigap coverage to its members.
Which interest is dominant: the commercial or the political? Given the group’s influence on important issues like healthcare, it’s a fair question. A recently released Juniper Research Group report suggests commercial concerns now may override in importance the lifestyle and economic issues on which AARP made its name.
Citing several sources, the report says that although AARP members contacting the group’s headquarters opposed the Affordable Care Act by a margin of 14 to 1, it went ahead and backed the bill anyway. Could that be because its insurance company partner – UnitedHealth – was more interested in getting a law on the books requiring every American to purchase health insurance than what its members wanted?
The report, available at www.CommitmentToSeniors.org and compiled for the group American Commitment, says the money coming from the purchase of supplemental health insurance coverage is now AARP’s main revenue source. However, rather than helping seniors select a plan tailored to their needs or financial resources, the group sells UnitedHealth insurance exclusively in return for a 4.95% cut on every plan sold.
This relationship brought more than $600 million into AARP’s coffers in 2017. Some might see that as evidence the group has evolved into a marketing vehicle for the nation’s largest health insurer. Several ongoing lawsuits contest that the money flowing to the group from its deal with UnitedHealth constitutes an “illegal kickback” because the potential customers are told the policies are cheaper than what’s available in the marketplace when identical coverage can be obtained without paying AARP’s commission.
Many of the same politicians who criticized the health insurance industry and other corporate interests as being selfish during the debate over Obamacare nonetheless hang on every word issuing from AARP headquarters. Obviously, they’ve failed to ask themselves if the group is speaking for its members or its funders.
American needs healthcare reform. Obamacare distorted the system in all kinds of ways. It made it difficult to keep the doctors we like and to utilize the insurance we bought because deductibles have risen so much. If we’re going to have an honest discussion about how to get out of the mess we’re in, the key players need to show their cards – or have them shown for them.
The elite media and so-called good government groups keep a close eye out for conflicts of interest, both real and potential, in the advocacy community on the right.
They argue against the influence of so-called “dark money” on all kinds of issues, not just healthcare. The watchdog groups who like to tie groups that question the existence and impact of climate change to oil companies and supporters of the Second Amendment to gun manufacturers seem to have missed the link between United Health and AARP.
Maybe they just don’t want to see it.
Peter Roff is a senior fellow at Frontiers of Freedom and a former U.S. News and World Report contributing editor who appears regularly as a commentator on the One America News network. Email him at RoffColumns@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @Peter Roff
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