The COVID-19 pandemic has hit many industries especially hard – and the news media is no exception. Thousands of reporters have been laid off, furloughed, or had their salaries cut and dozens of publications have closed for good.
Despite the economic difficulties threatening their very existence, media outlets and news organizations across the country dropped their paywalls and made coronavirus coverage available for free to non-subscribers.
Explaining the move to Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic said, “This is a public health emergency. If we have information that’s important for people to read, I’m not sure how ethical it would be to keep that from them if they didn’t give me their credit card.”
AARP took a different approach and tried to profit from the pandemic. The supposed seniors advocacy organization used COVID-19 as a hook to sell membership subscriptions well into the month of April – after hundreds of thousands of Americans had already contracted the virus.
In Facebook ads, AARP advertised a “FREE Digital Guide featuring the top questions about COVID-19 answered.” To get this “free” guide get your questions answered, all you had to do was fill out your personal information and give them your credit card number along with $12.
While news media organizations were on the ropes financially but giving their information away for free, AARP was charging seniors during a public health emergency.
What makes this even more galling is the fact that AARP and their corporate sponsor UnitedHealth Group prospered while seniors suffered, raking in money hand over fist:
“Yet, while seniors pass away at alarming rates and Americans file for unemployment, Washington, D.C.’s power duo – UnitedHealth and AARP—stand idly by while raking in record earnings.
UnitedHealth Group (UHG)’s recently released Q1 earnings report easily beat Wall Street’s expectations earning over $5 billion, up about 3.4% from the first three months of 2019. Ordinarily, a corporation’s success should be celebrated as it comes with increased economic activity—more jobs, opportunity, and spending. However, the manner in which UnitedHealth has profited should be a cause for concern if you believe the main driver of success for health insurers should be the health of its beneficiaries.”
Despite maintaining a tax-exempt charitable status, AARP has seen its revenue soar. In fact, the group has raked in an astounding $11 billion from its sales and marketing activities in recent years, with revenues climbing from just under $200 million in 2001 to over $900 million in 2018.
Most of that revenue comes from UnitedHealth, which from 2010 to 2017 sent AARP a
staggering $4.2 billion. That includes a record $627 million in 2017 – after which AARP stopped specifically disclosing how much it takes in from UnitedHealth. This is the same UnitedHealth that brought in record profits this quarter that, ironically, has come during a deadly pandemic.
Rather than following the lead of news organizations and offering important information for free to seniors – the group most at risk from the novel coronavirus – AARP used the crisis to grow their member rolls and profit from the pandemic. Seniors deserve better.