Voices of Power: AARP's John Rother

John Rother, AARP Director of Policy, talks about health care and the difficulty of pleasing all 40 million members of AARP.
Interview by Lois Romano
Thursday, November 12, 2009; 8:06 AM

MS. ROMANO: Okay. Welcome, John Rother, Director of Policy for AARP, the world's largest organization for people over 50. Thanks for joining us today.

MR. ROTHER: It's my pleasure.

MS. ROMANO: You all made a decision to endorse the House version of the health care reform bill. What's in it for seniors? And be specific.

MR. ROTHER: Well, there are several things that are really important for both seniors and for older people between 50 and 64. For seniors, there's the "doughnut hole" goes away over time, saving people thousands of dollars. There's new prevention and screening benefits that are free. There's additional assistance to lower-income people and improves their situation, and there's also steps taken to build a better longterm care system for people who are disabled and need help staying independent.

MS. ROMANO: You've gotten a lot of pushback on this, though. You've lost some members on it. So, obviously, not everybody's in agreement.

MR. ROTHER: Well, first off, with 40 million members, we can hardly please everyone, and a very, very small fraction of our members have voiced any disapproval. And we've also gotten a very large number of people saying, you know, "Go for it. Hurray." So I think we'rewe're, you know, in the center of where our members want us to be in terms of advocating for things like the doughnut hole, lower costs, better access to physicians, that kind of thing.

MS. ROMANO: According to polls, in recent polls, seniors are more opposed to Obama's health care plan than any other demographic, and you've been under, you know, fire for months

MR. ROTHER: I think it's understandable, though, when people hear about savings out of Medicare that amount to a lot of money, over $400 billion. Then they have some anxiety about it.

On the other hand, when we asked people, our members and people at large, about the specific elements of health reform, there we see a lot more support. So what we experience in phone calls and letters and emails is more of tell us what this means, tell us how this would work, what is this likely to produce, as opposed to, you know, don't go there, we're unalterably opposed. So I think people are anxious. I think they want more information, and I think we feel like we've done the analysis. We can reassure them to a great extent.

MS. ROMANO: what do you tell your members that are very concerned that it's going to be 4 to 500 billion dollars, cuts in funding for Medicare, and they're very concerned that this means cuts in their benefits?

MR. ROTHER: Yeah. Well, first of all, the provider groups themselves have accepted this and said they could live with it, and it would not affect the services they offer, but, secondly, as a percent of the total Medicare expenditures over 10 years, these amount to only about 3percent reductions in what would otherwise be spent. So, surely, we can find savings and efficiencies that are equal to 3 percent of the program, in a big program like Medicare.

MS. ROMANO: As you know, one of the big fears everybody has, not just seniors, is that they're going to lose some benefits, that something is going to be taken away from them.

CONTINUED     1              >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company