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Is AARP the Organization It Claims to Be?

During the 2020 election, AARP staff repeatedly claimed that their organization “maintains a nonpartisan stance” and “is a powerful voice for the issues and concerns of the 50 plus.” It’s true that the AARP doesn’t make political contributions or endorse candidates, as doing so would jeopardize its “non-profit” status. However, the claim that the organization is focused on issues that benefit its members is laughably wrong. Instead, the driving factor behind the political fights that AARP picks seems to be the interests of its corporate sponsors.

Despite calls from members coming in against the Affordable Care Act at a rate of 14 to 1, AARP provided the political cover needed to force the bill through Congress. The final bill allowed Medigap policies to discriminate against seniors with preexisting conditions. Since then, AARP has pocketed a 4.95 percent “royalty” from UnitedHealth off the top of seniors’ Medigap premiums. UnitedHealth Group has paid AARP a total of $5 billion since the passage of the Affordable Care Act for selling its insurance products exclusively.

When AARP faced a class-action lawsuit over these royalties by members who said they were deceived into paying undisclosed commissions, the organization’s lawyers responded in telling fashion. They stated that there is no requirement for AARP to “act with the interests of [members] in mind.”

AARP also claims to be “fighting to lower prescription drug prices.” Their plan, however, is to impose government pricing schemes that would dramatically reduce timely access to life-saving medications for seniors while decreasing the scientific research and development that spurs breakthrough innovations and treatments.

Worse yet, the organization helped kill a plan that would have allowed seniors to receive prescription drug rebates directly at their local pharmacy counter, saving them money. AARP instead fought for the status quo—sending the rebates to pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) middlemen like OptumRX, a wholly-owned subsidiary of UnitedHealth.

Rather than being a “fierce defender of age 50-plus voters,” AARP seems to be a fierce defender of their corporate sponsors’ bottom line. American seniors should look at the facts and ask themselves: for whom is AARP really fighting?