Herald News

Angry Seniors Cut Cards, Rip AARP On Drug Reform

Herald News / NorthJersey.com — Friday, November 21, 2003


NEWARK — Representatives of senior citizens groups sliced their AARP membership cards and delivered stormy letters to senators' offices Thursday, in a show of solidarity against proposed Medicare prescription-drug legislation.

About 12 people attended the gathering in a conference room at the Hilton Gateway Center Hotel.

"AARP, I'm ashamed of you," said Miriam Dickman, 82, legislative chairwoman of AARP's Cranford branch. "You broke your promise."

The Newark protest was organized by NJ Citizen Action, which urged U.S. Sens. Jon S. Corzine and Frank Lautenberg, both Democrats, to filibuster and prevent a vote on the Medicare prescription-drug bill.

AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, endorsed a Republican-backed proposal to reform Medicare Wednesday.

The group reversed its earlier, critical position on the prescription drug plan, which opponents say will essentially privatize the government-run insurance program by sending one-third of its budget to drug companies to administer benefits.

The bill, written largely by Republicans, has been the subject of near-constant debate in the House and Senate since Congress voted to amend Medicare on June 28. Reforming the program, funded by a trust that is projected to run out in about 20 years, would be a major boost to President Bush.

During Thursday's meeting, octogenarian activists declared that AARP had sold out its 35 million members, who are age 50 and older.

"This is a giveaway to the many special interests that have been lobbying," said Nathan Segal, 82, of the United Senior Alliance and the Alliance for Retired Americans, which formally opposed the bill on behalf of its 3 million members. "AARP, I'm disappointed."

In its current form, Medicare covers hospital treatment, outpatient care and some doctor visits. People over age 65 and some disabled

Americans are eligible for the insurance, which is funded by the federal government.

In the latest version of the proposed reforms, Medicare recipients would pay a $250 deductible for drug coverage. Insurance would pay 75 percent of drug costs up to $2,200. Then, patients would not be covered at all until their spending hit $3,600 in a single year - a so-called "doughnut hole" that opponents say punishes those who need prescription drug coverage most."What are they supposed to do - eat dog food or decide to take their medicine?" said Waheeda Muhammad, 53, of AFL-CIO-CLC, Local 195.

After scissoring their AARP membership cards, attendees marched from the hotel to the senators' Newark offices to deliver the message to workers there. Earlier this month, Corzine signed a letter addressed to conferees on the Medicare legislation to reconsider the bill, declaring that one-third of senior citizens would lose their employer-sponsored healthcare benefits. He and Lautenberg have both voted to support the proposed reforms in the past.

In Washington Thursday, Democrats charged that because the organization does business with major insurance companies, such as United HealthCare Insurance Co. and Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., AARP was acting in its own interest, not the interests of its members.

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