By Phil Kerpen
Today’s AARP is not a seniors advocacy group. It is a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate that brings in billions of dollars from the nation’s largest health insurer: UnitedHealth. In turn, AARP lobbies and funnels hefty amounts towards major advocacy campaigns aligned with Democrat leaders’ policy priorities.
It is hugely profitable for AARP, UnitedHealth, and Democratic politicians – but seniors suffer the consequences of being misrepresented and harmed by the policies AARP advocates. But there is cause for hope. My organization commissioned a comprehensive poll of older Americans and AARP members – and they revolt when informed of the basic facts.
The heart of the financial relationship is a 4.95 percent skim, or “royalty,” off the top of monthly premiums that UnitedHealth kicks back to AARP on every AARP-UnitedHealth branded Medicare product via what’s known as a “grantors trust.” They style these payments as “royalties” because if they were commissions AARP would be subject to state insurance rules and regulations. AARP derives most of its revenue not from membership dues but from such corporate royalty arrangements, with the lion’s share coming from UnitedHealth.
An analysis by Juniper Research found that UnitedHealth pays AARP about $800 million per year under this scheme. This amount of money has allowed AARP to create a political juggernaut in terms of its advocacy campaigns despite a clear conflict of interest. Our poll found:
- Close to 90% of older voters are concerned about AARP earning billions in royalties over several years from UnitedHealth while lobbying on similar issues like Medicare.
- Almost universally, older Americans and AARP members believe AARP should be required disclose its financial relationship with corporations in its advertising and communications on public policies.
- Some 74% of 55+ likely voting seniors consider the nearly 5% royalty AARP receives from AARP-UnitedHealth policies a “junk fee.”
Last year’s debate over the tragically misnamed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) was a case in point. AARP spent lavishly promoting the price controls sought by Democrats and acted as if drug prices were the only thing seniors cared about, even though AARP’s own polling showed only 18 percent of older Americans are not satisfied with their drug costs. Premiums, deductibles and copays were much bigger issues.
AARP never mentioned nearly in its 100 IRA-related events and petition drives largely aimed at benefiting Democrat Members of Congress that hundreds of billions of dollars of reduced Medicare drug spending would be diverted to fund liberal spending programs that had nothing to do with Medicare for things like subsidies for electric vehicles, solar panels and supersized Obamacare policies issued by big insurers like UnitedHealth.
AARP also ignored warnings from the Congressional Budget Office that the IRA’s price controls would lead to fewer new cures and treatments. And as expected, nearly every drug developer has canceled clinical trials since the bill passed. Meanwhile, under the IRA insurers like UnitedHealth are in line for a financial windfall with super-sized subsidies for Obamacare policies and government price controls dictating pricing of many medicines. Our poll found:
- Nearly 90% believe AARP should not have supported the IRA after discovering it diverted some Medicare drug savings to pay for unrelated spending and tax breaks.
- Over 80% are concerned the IRA will lead to a loss in new cures for chronic and rare diseases.
- Roughly 90% are concerned AARP used its influence with legislators and its financial resources to help pass the IRA in view of its relationship with UnitedHealth.
AARP tried to wave away these findings by falsely accusing us of being a front-group – even though American Commitment spent the last two years fighting against vaccine mandates and filed the only amicus brief referenced in oral arguments on the COVID-19 OSHA mandate before the Supreme Court.
The front-group accusation is quite a tactic from a group that brings in literally billions from the nation’s largest health insurer and never criticizes them.
Conservatives will continue to lose health care policy debates, and seniors will suffer unnecessarily, if we fail to expose the AARP-UnitedHealth-Democrat combine. Fortunately, our poll shows that doing so is a political winner.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/senoranderson/2245216631/