Correction: An earlier version of this op-ed stated incorrectly that “six out of seven federal dollars go to benefits for seniors.” The sentence was a misstatement of an Urban Institute finding that the federal government spends $6 on elderly people for every $1 it spends on children.
Stephen Miller is a writer living in Reston, Va.
Today I got another letter from AARP. The letters have been coming pretty much every week for 25 years. But in the past two months they’ve changed. AARP used to ask me to join. Now the letters from the lobbying group for older Americans say that I have joined but I haven’t paid my bill.
The latest one has on the envelope in big red letters: “Immediate Attention Requested.” It says, “Thank you for joining AARP.” But two sentences later it adds: “If you’ll promptly return the enclosed invoice with your payment, we will reinstate your membership and you’ll once again be a member in good standing.”
So am I new member or a lapsed member? Neither. I have never joined AARP. And never will.
I suspect these new letters from AARP are a computer error, but I can’t be certain. At least once a week, I get a phone call from someone who tries to sell me things by suggesting that I’ve already ordered the product: wheelchairs, walkers, medical alert systems, whatever. The caller says something like: “Your order is in the warehouse ready to be shipped. To complete the purchase, press one.” Which of course I never do.
AARP clearly hopes that one day I will come to my senses and realize that joining the group is a smart move. Why don’t I join? AARP has oodles of benefits — and it only costs 16 bucks for a year’s membership. You can save, the letter says, on prescriptions and health-care products through AARP’s convenient pharmacy service; you can save on hotels, motels, tours and cruises. “You can save on groceries, restaurants, flowers, electronics, clothing, vision and hearing care, and more.” AARP even has a Benefits Handbook.
But I don’t join because there’s one “benefit” AARP offers that I dislike. “You benefit from AARP’s leadership in Washington as AARP fights to protect Social Security, Medicare and employment rights.” Protect? AARP doesn’t protect Social Security and Medicare. It prevents any serious discussion of meaningfully reforming these programs, which are in great danger of becoming insolvent.
AARP, with its nearly 38 million members, is one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in Washington. Thanks in part to AARP, the federal government spends $6 on elderly people for every $1 it spends on children. The National Rifle Association, by comparison, claims 4.5 million members.
So my refusal to join is a protest vote of sorts — a way of saying that AARP has too much influence.
“Fanaticism consists of redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim,” philosopher and essayist George Santayana said. AARP hasn’t forgotten its aim, but it is fanatical to bombard me with letters for a quarter of a century. It must have cost AARP hundreds of dollars in postage.
What can I do to discourage AARP from sending me another letter? Today I sent a return envelope in which I wrote in a big zero for my payment and scribbled on it: “I am not a member!” But I doubt that this will have any effect. I suspect that AARP will be sending me letters until the day I die — and maybe even after that. Who knows how many dead souls get letters saying they’ve just signed up.
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