Monday, March 28, 2011

This Week in GOP Witch Hunts: Demonizing the Old People's Lobby

Remember the northern California congressman who made headlines at one of those anti-healthcare reform town halls by congratulating an audience member who described himself as a "proud, right-wing terrorist?"  The congressman's name is Wally Herger, in case you forgot.  He garnered a Keith Olbermann "Worst Person in the World" honor in August 2009 for responding to the Tea Partyer's outburst by enthusing "Amen!  There goes a great American!"

Wally Herger: Anti-AARP Crusader 

The audience member later amended his terrorist characterization of himself, saying what he really meant was "extremist"-- as if that is any more palatable than terrorist.  Herger, though, amended nothing and refused to apologize.  He would do anything, say anything to defeat "Obamacare" then - and it appears he'll do what it takes to repeal it now.  And destroy the biggest lobby for older Americans in the country while he's at it.

Herger is co-chair of an investigative joint House Oversight and Health  subcommittee "looking into" AARP - the American Association of Retired Persons.  According to Herger and his sidekick, Louisiana Republican Charles Boustany, the purpose of Friday's go-fish game hearing will be to see if AARP is profiting unfairly from selling Medicare supplement insurance policies to its members.

According to Herger, "AARP is known for being the largest and most well known seniors’ organization in the country.  But what Americans don’t know is that AARP was the 4th highest spending lobbying organization between 1998 and 2010 or that the AARP brand dominates the private Medicare insurance market.  This hearing is about getting to the bottom of how AARP’s financial interests affect their self-stated mission of enhancing senior’s quality of life.  It is important to better understand how AARP’s insurance business overlaps with its advocacy efforts and whether such overlap is appropriate.”

And Boustany added, “As one of the country’s most well-known non-profits, many of America’s seniors trust AARP to represent their interests.  But in light of AARP’s dependence on its income from insurance products, there is good reason to question whether AARP is primarily looking out for seniors or just its own bottom line.  Before seniors decide whether AARP is worthy of their trust, or their hard-earned dollars, they deserve all of the facts.  The purpose of this hearing is to provide a public examination of the facts so seniors can decide those questions for themselves.”

Those statements do indeed sound noble  --  but coming from these two right-wingers, they are anything but.  AARP has long been a thorn in the side of conservatives for its support of the Affordable Care Act. Although seniors as a group shifted to the right in the last election,  Republican candidates have used the law's alleged cuts to Medicare (supporters call them efficiencies) as one rationale for repeal.  AARP remains the top lobbying group defending the law. It is also the single strongest lobby defending Social Security and Medicare from planned cuts -- and therefore anathema to Republicans and their wealthy corporate puppetmasters.

It's curious that Boustany and Herger are mouthing such concern about the possible bilking of senior citizens by the AARP insurance arm, when some of the biggest contributors to each of their campaigns have been insurance companies. I wonder if these contributions from insurance companies overlap with the congressmen's stated purpose of serving their constituents, and whether these overlaps are appropriate. Let's examine the facts, as the good gentlemen suggest, and let people decide for themselves:

  The single top donor to Herger's war chest was Blue Cross/Blue Shield, which contributed $96,000 to his cause last year. His other big contributors were "health professionals," pharmaceuticals and health products and HMOs.  Boustany, a Louisiana heart surgeon, received $224,000 from health care professionals, more than $100,000 from insurance companies, and $67,132 from pharmaceuticals and health products. (source:  And Dick Cheney, probably at the top of some secret list for a government-funded heart transplant, campaigned for him.

Herger and Boustany have yet to announce their witness list for the hearing, but I am willing to bet it will include professionals  from conservative think tanks and insurance company front organizations testifying in the personae of unaffiliated geriatricians and social workers.

The subcommittee is accepting testimony and comments by internet, so drop them a line and tell them what you think. Go to, select "hearings" and follow the instructions for submissions.  I wrote them a quick message, saying if we'd gone for Single Payer/Medicare for All, they wouldn't be in this pickle, worrying about AARP having a stake in the for-profit insurance scams which have done more than anything else to drive up all our health care costs. Two-thirds of us still want a public option, Wally and Charlie!  Actually, even the Tea Party would just love government-run health care, once they had it.

 Remember - this Friday, April Fools Day, 9 a.m., Longworth Office Building. Show up or tune in to C-Span. Hope for a contingent of Gray Panthers to storm the hearing room and raise a ruckus. Herger will rue the day he joined the Republican Overreach Club and will be praying for his show trial to end.  We will not be hearing any resounding "Amens" from him this time.  He will go down in ignominy as just one more craven, self-serving politician, joining the likes of Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Peter King and Joe McCarthy in the Congressional Hall of Shame. 


Anne Lavoie said...

I lost my faith in the good sense of AARP when they favored passage of the nightmare Medicare Part D. First I need to rant about Part D.

Part D is contributing in large part towards the financial problems of Medicare as a whole. It is subsidizing the pharmaceutical industry. It encourages prescription drug use rather than natural, alternative, or OTC remedies. And it is most definitely making life even more complicated for the elderly and disabled every fall by the yearly changes in companies, plans, drugs covered, changing premiums, changing deductibles, various tiers of drugs, etc.

If you do nothing, you get the same plan usually at a doubled premium, or you can try to negotiate the maze and choose a new plan and all the new details that go with it but only if you, or the 90 year old neighbor, can figure it all out online. I suspect this is the nightmare that ACA will bring to everyone soon.

We are required to purchase Part D coverage, which rises significantly every year. The penalty for not signing up is not a tax such as with ACA, but it does impose an endless added premium if you sign up later.

AARP advocated for passage and offered their own drug plans as soon as it was passed. I think it will be very interesting to see just how commercial they have become.


Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Curiously enough, our Plan D coverage (in our second year on Medicare) went down several dollars this year! But I agree that Plan D is a nightmare because it doesn't allow negotiation with big pharma to bring prices down. So we and our insurers still pay the premium prices for drugs.

It's like the limitations of Obama's health reform with no single payer option and continued reliance on the horrendous private insurance companies. (Don't get me started on them....I'm a retired health care provider and find their tactics repulsive. I've seen patients die as a result of the insurance company stalling tactics.)

Very good point, Karen, about Herger's receiving donations from Blue Cross/Blue Shield. The hypocrisy of the GOP is beyond belief!

Looking at the whole GOP war against seniors and so-called entitlements, I'm aghast at how their propaganda machine is pumping up a generational war -- and also that Social Security and Medicare are earmarked for cuts to bring down the deficit. Good God!! They have nothing to do with the deficit! They are not handouts! We pay -- quite a significant amount -- for Medicare, Medicare supplement and Plan D. And we've paid significant amounts into Social Security over the years. My husband and I both worked for 45 and 43 years respectively. And the last 20 years, I worked three jobs -- one full-time and two part-time -- paying into Social Security through all three. And, doesn't anyone on Capitol Hill remember, we had own Social Security taxes raised dramatically in the early 80's to cover the retirement of the Baby Boomers. So I am angry and wondering WTF? It isn't enough that the banksters set up a financial debacle that stole a huge percentage of our 401K's in 2008 and an equally huge percentage of our home equity. Now they're coming after the safety net that is keeping some of us from poverty nevertheless!

Anonymous said...

If you're for a single payer plan, as I am, then you should call for a plague on both Rep Wally Herger AND the AARP. AARP says it's for a fair shake for the old folks, and lots of oldsters believe, wrongly, that AARP is an advocate for the over 55 crowd. The truth - an old truth that's been kicking around for a long time - is that AARP is deeply funded by and, therefore, steered by big health insurance. Herder may be going after AARP for the wrong reasons; but there are good reasons not to support AARP. It's a front for big insurance. Follow the money. Likewise, take care in supporting the key paragraphs of the Affordable Care Act, which forces more people into the arms of big insurance as the only way for the non-poor to get healthcare.

Anonymous said...

Why does anyone who belives the government will misuse it's authority on domestic wire taps, thinks the same government is covering for the banks that donate money to it's political campaigns with TARP suddenly think that same government will run a fair and equitable one payer health care system?


Karen Garcia said...

Thanks so much for all your thought-provoking comments. I never joined AARP, and have no idea if they cheat people. I just find it upsetting that Republicans are investigating it for obviously less than altruistic reasons. As for the efficiency of Medicare, my experience with them has been excellent. Real people answer your phone calls. My late husband was a physician, and Medicare always paid promptly - unlike the private insurers who paid little and often paid late, lost claims, denied claims (it was like this even decades ago). The for -profits are the nightmare, not Medicare.
Medicaid , though, is the true pits in many places. Few doctors accept it. I will be doing more on Medicaid very soon...

As far Part D, I confess knowing little about it. Do you think it's better than no coverage at all? When I think back, I am amazed that Bush even proposed drug coverage under Medicare! -- even though Pharma was the big winner. Can you imagine Republicans voting in drug coverage now?

I am going to keep pushing for Single Payer even though I am shouting in the wind.

Anonymous said...

I lost all faith, as if I ever had any, in AARP when they helped push the Medicare Part D down our throats.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

I don't trust AARP any more than I trust politicians. They do, indeed, do a lot with insurance, which is unsettling.

Karen, I share your feelings about Medicare: it seems to work wonderfully. I am also on the same page with you about private insurance. In addition to my previous rantings about it, I also battled insurance companies who had referred patients to me in the first place for payment for months and months.

As for Part D: I can't imagine Republicans today even imagining such a move. It does help those who take expensive medications. My husband has a severe seizure disorder and takes a number of medications to control it. Plan D is a real help. But it has been rough for seniors who hit the dreaded "donut hole". And, again, the pharmaceutical industry hasn't made any concessions with this plan -- which increases the expense of the program.