Monday, June 20, 2011

AARP Misleads on Medicare

In case you hadn’t seen it, the Washington Post this morning awarded Four Pinocchios to AARP for its ad campaign regarding Medicare and Social Security.  Here’s the key passage:

The AARP ad perpetuates the worst stereotypes about how easy it would be to balance the budget.  At a time when the nation’s fiscal crisis—amid the looming retirement of the baby-boom generation—demands informed and reasoned debate, the AARP misinforms its members about the choices the nation faces.  The choice is not between shrimp treadmills and Medicare; the question is how growth in the big entitlement programs can be restrained to accommodate the baby-boom generation without harming the elderly already receiving benefits.

As indicated above, the ad implies that the federal budget can be balanced just by cutting earmarks, a claim that even AARP acknowledged was a stretch: “No one would suggest that these three things or even similar projects would balance the budget….This is a 30-second ad to catch people’s attention.  We don’t have time to educate people over what’s going on.”

The Post piece notes that the four earmarks and projects profiled in the ad totaled a combined $149 million in federal spending.  That’s only about one-third of the more than $441 million AARP earned in royalty fees from selling Medigap and other health insurance policies just last year, according to its own financial statements.  Yet ironically enough, the ads don’t mention the size of AARP’s largesse – what its own members have dubbed kickbacks – compared to the wasteful federal spending discussed in the ad.  It’s also ironic that an organization that receives nearly half a billion dollars a year in revenue from United Health Care – funds that represent pure profit to the organization – apparently thinks it doesn’t have the time or resources to educate people about the true sources of America’s entitlement crisis.

Friday’s headlines were filled with stories regarding the organization’s (apparent) change of position on Social Security reform.  But if AARP wants to be seen as a responsible stakeholder, misleading ads like those exposed this morning won’t help the organization, and most importantly, won’t solve America’s entitlement problems – which, if unaddressed, will soon hit millions of American seniors.