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AARP Opponents Try to Capitalize on Flap

None of AARP’s competitors has the budget or the member numbers, this lobbyist noted, to break through in a significant way.

Another lobbyist said AARP is in “lockdown” mode internally and is saying nothing about Rother’s status there. “It was manipulation by the press,” this second lobbyist said. “But the quotes were politically insensitive.”

Even 60 Plus’ Martin said it’s unlikely that AARP, given its massive membership base, could lose much influence on Capitol Hill, even though he has noticed an increase in traffic to his own website. “Seniors are pissed off, irate — they are kind of scratching their heads” about what AARP is up to, he said.

Although the story has forced AARP to do damage control on Capitol Hill, the group’s executive vice president of state and national groups, Nancy LeaMond, said it hasn’t distracted the organization from its mission of protecting Medicare and Social Security in the midst of the debt ceiling debate.

“For us, it’s business as usual,” LeaMond said.

AARP has launched a national advertising campaign called Protect Seniors and is working to persuade its members and like-minded seniors to write or call their Members of Congress to prevent harmful cuts to the entitlement programs.

“We’ve seen an avalanche of communication from our members,” LeaMond said. “We’ve driven around 300,000 phone calls and emails to the Congress.”

During the House recess this week and the Senate recess next week, AARP’s volunteers have scheduled numerous visits with Members in their districts.

LeaMond added that she’s aware that other organizations have reached out to seniors after the Wall Street Journal article. But she said it’s an issue that’s not likely to resonate outside the Beltway.

“We don’t have any sense of what impact that’s having on seniors because all we’re seeing is members responding to the real issue: potential cuts to Medicare and Social Security,” she said.

As for charges that it has any partisan bent, AARP contends that it “has always been a nonpartisan organization with members across the country that represent the political spectrum,” according to Burns.

Some of the criticism of AARP might also have a commercial basis.

The ASA sells medical and life insurance products that compete with those offered by AARP.

ASA’s Chris Polk said AARP has “sold its soul” by entering into exclusive arrangements with benefits companies such as UnitedHealthcare.

“Now if you call us, we’re going to find you the best provider based on your ZIP code and the medications you’re taking,” Polk said. “We do business with UnitedHealthcare, but we don’t if they’re not the best product for our member.”

Burns said that her group’s subsidiary, AARP Services, “works with a number of providers” including UnitedHealthcare, Aetna and Genworth Financial “to meet the needs of our members.”

Polk said the ASA fields seven-figure offers to enter into exclusive arrangements with particular companies but has declined.

“We need the money,” he said, “but it’s not the best thing for our members. That’s the difference between us and AARP. That is huge.”

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