AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, is a United States-based non-governmental organization and interest group, founded in 1958 by Ethel Percy Andrus, PhD, a retired educator from California, and based in Washington, D.C. According to its mission statement, it is "a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization for people age 50 and over ... dedicated to enhancing quality of life for all as we age," which "provides a wide range of unique benefits, special products, and services for our members."
AARP operates as a non-profit advocate for its members and as one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States. AARP has two affiliated organizations: AARP Services Inc. which is managed wholly for profit, and the AARP Foundation which operates on a non-profit basis.
AARP Services Inc. offers: Medicare supplemental health insurance, discounts on prescription drugs and consumer goods, entertainment and travel packages, long-term care insurance and automobile, home and life insurance. It provides quality control over the products and services made available by AARP-endorsed providers. According to AARP's 2008 Consolidated financials, it was paid $652,000,000 in royalties from insurance companies that sold products referred by AARP. AARP also received an additional $120,000,000 for the ads placed in its publications.
The AARP Foundation runs programs on: free tax preparation and counseling, work training for older people of low income, training of volunteers on matters concerning the elderly, crime prevention and safe driving. Its vision is "a country that is free of poverty where no older person feels vulnerable."
AARP claims over 40 million members, making it one of the largest membership organizations in the United States.
Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus founded AARP in 1958. AARP evolved from the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA), which Andrus had established in 1947 to promote her philosophy of productive aging, and in response to the need of health insurance for retired teachers. After ten years, Andrus opened the organization to all Americans over 50, creating AARP. Today, NRTA is a division within AARP. Honors to Dr. Andrus include induction into the Women's Hall of Fame and, more recently, a medallion placed on the Points of Light Institute's "Extra Mile Pathway" in downtown Washington, D.C. According to Andy Rooney, AARP was established by Leonard Davis, founder of the Colonia Penn Group insurance companies, after he met Ethel Percy Andrus.
According to critics, until the 1980s AARP was controlled by Mr. Davis, who promoted its image as a non-profit advocate of retirees in order to sell insurance to members. After a lengthy competitive bidding process, AARP shifted the insurance contracts made available to members to Prudential in 1980. In the 1990s, the United States Senate investigated AARP's non-profit status, with Republican Senator Alan Simpson, then chairman of the United States Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy, questioning the organization's tax-exempt status in congressional hearings. According to Charles Blahous, the investigations did not reveal sufficient evidence to change the organization's status, though in a interview years later by the Des Moines Register, Senator Simpson remained "troubled by AARP's practices", calling AARP "the biggest marketing operation in America and money-maker" and an organization whose practices are "the greatest abuse of American generosity I witnessed in my time in the U.S. Senate."
The organization was originally named the American Association of Retired Persons, but in 1999 it officially changed its name to "AARP" (pronounced one letter at a time, "ay ay ar pee") to reflect that its focus was no longer American retirees. AARP no longer requires that members be retired, just that they be over 50 years old, and does not extend full membership privileges to applicants who are retired but not over 50.
AARP is widely known for addressing issues affecting older Americans through a multitude of initiatives, including lobbying efforts at the state and national governmental level, an activity permitted by its 501(c)(4) status. The organization claims that it is non-partisan and does not support, oppose or give money to any candidates or political parties. AARP's total revenue for 2006 was approximately $1 billion and it spent $23 million on lobbying. AARP also provides extensive consumer information, volunteer opportunities, and events including the annual National Event & Expo (in Los Angeles in 2011). One of AARP's goals is to reduce hunger among seniors through the Drive to End Hunger. AARP and AARP Foundation have a new relationship with NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports to increase awareness of hunger in America with the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger race car and related food drives.
AARP Services, Inc., founded in 1999, is a wholly owned taxable subsidiary of AARP. AARP Services manages the wide range of products and services that are offered as benefits to AARP’s 40 million members. The offers span health products, travel and leisure products, and life event services. Specific products include Medicare supplemental insurance; member discounts on rental cars, cruises, vacation packages and lodging; special offers on technology and gifts; pharmacy services; legal services; and long-term care insurance. AARP Services founded AARP Financial Incorporated, a subsidiary that manages AARP-endorsed financial products including AARP Funds. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in June 2010, AARP Financial announced the discontinuation of AARP Funds  AARP Services develops new products, manages and markets products and services, and creates and maintains partnership and sponsorship relationships.
The AARP Foundation is AARP’s affiliated charity. Foundation programs provide security, protection and empowerment for older persons in need. Low-income older workers receive the job training and placement they need to re-join the workforce. Free tax preparation is provided for low- and moderate-income individuals, with special attention to those 60 and older. The Foundation’s litigation staff protects the legal rights of older Americans in critical health, long-term care, consumer and employment situations. Additional programs provide information, education and services to ensure that people over 50 lead lives of independence, dignity and purpose. Foundation programs are funded by grants, tax-deductible contributions and AARP.
The organization also publishes AARP The Magazine (known until 2002 as Modern Maturity), a magazine focusing on aging issues. Established in 1958, the magazine, distributed bi-monthly, is sent to every AARP member. AARP also publishes the AARP Bulletin. AARP The Magazine and the AARP Bulletin are by far the two magazines with the highest circulation in the United States. AARP also produces AARP VIVA, a quarterly publication with every article in Spanish and English; the online Live & Learn; and has a books division.
The organization also produces radio and television programs. Prime Time Radio, hosted by veteran broadcaster Mike Cuthbert, is a one-hour weekly interview program that focuses on the wide-ranging interests and concerns of Americans 40 and older. The program is heard on radio stations across the country as well as on the Prime Time Radio web site. Prime Time Focus, hosted by Alyne Ellis, is a 90-second daily feature with a five-minute weekend edition heard on more than 500 stations. Movies for Grownups, a weekly 2-minute program hosted by AARP the Magazine Entertainment Editor Bill Newcott, is heard on stations nationwide and online at the radioprimetime website. Recent guests have included Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Ron Howard, Alfre Woodard, and Helen Hunt. The Movies for Grownups Awards (www.moviesforgrownups.org) are presented each February in Hollywood. My Generation, hosted by Leeza Gibbons, is AARPs lifestyle show featuring nationally known experts covering issues from health and money to relationships and volunteering.
In 1979, AARP introduced the nation’s first-ever driver safety course geared towards older adults. The AARP Driver Safety Program, which can be completed in a classroom setting or online, teaches defensive driving techniques and provides “added information on age-related cognitive and physical changes that affect driving.” The course is instructed and promoted by volunteers throughout the US.
AARP has been active in health care policy debates since c. 1960 and its recent engagement is a reflection of this long-standing involvement.
AARP's public stances influenced the United States Congress' passage of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, which authorized the creation of Medicare Part D, in 2003, and also influenced the Congress by resisting radical changes to Social Security in 2005. AARP also addressed health care issues in their campaign targeting the 2008 elections with Divided We Fail.
Divided We Fail
In early 2007 AARP launched "Divided We Fail," designed to address health care and long-term financial security. The initiative was launched with Business Roundtable and the Service Employees International Union, and encompasses advertising in national outlets and in the primary states, online activities, and traditional grassroots work, in order to engage the public, business and elected officials in the debate, and to encourage public leaders to offer solutions, according to the AARP. Nancy LeaMond, executive officer for social impact, said, "We want to really get to these candidates and ask for action, answers and accountability on these questions."
The initiative used an "elephonkey" mixed animal as its symbol, with the head and forelegs of the Republican elephant and the ears, hindquarters, and tail of the kicking Democratic donkey. "Champ" quickly became a recognizable symbol of the Divided We Fail initiative, fostered in part by television commercials that ran across the country. In addition, Divided We Fail Florida incorporated the initiative's mascot into an interactive educational vehicle, dubbed the "Champmobile," which traveled across the state and throughout the United States encouraging voters to "Let your voice be heard!"
In February 2007, AARP announced the launch of a new advertising campaign designed to address issues that will impact future generations and showcase the AARP brand. The campaign, called “Future Champions,” features children talking about the state of health care and financial security. The multigenerational focus is designed to reinforce the AARP's Divided We Fail coalition.
Approximately seven million people have AARP branded health insurance, including drug coverage and Medigap, as of April 2007 and AARP earns more income from selling insurance to members than it does from membership dues. In 2008, AARP plans to begin offering several new health insurance products: An HMO for Medicare recipients, in partnership with UnitedHealth Group; and a PPO and "a high-deductible insurance policy that could be used with a health savings account" to people aged 50–64, in partnership with Aetna. AARP will likely become the largest source of health insurance for Medicare recipients, and AARP estimates the new products will increase its health insurance customers to 14 million by 2014.
AARP is not an insurer and does not pay insurance claims. Instead, AARP allows its name to be used by insurance companies in the sale of insurance products, for which it is paid a commission like an insurance agent.
Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said in 2008 that the "limited benefit" insurance plans offered by AARP through UnitedHealth provided inadequate coverage and were marketed deceptively. One plan offered $5,000 for surgery that may cost two or three times that amount.
AARP does a "thriving business" in marketing branded Medigap policies. As of October 2009, Medical care reform contained a proposal to trim an associated program Medicare Advantage, which was expected to increase demand for Medigap policies. However, as cited above, AARP also brands a Medicare Advantage plan (MedicareComplete), and would also be subject to cuts under health care reform.
On the other hand, single-payer advocates have criticized AARP for not supporting the single-payer or public option during the health care debate. Single-payer advocates supported H.R. 676, proposed by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). AARP released a statement explaining to its members why the organization was not supporting H.R. 676:
Starting over with a new, "single-payer" program will not eliminate the problems Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP currently face, such as the spiraling costs of procedures and prescription medications, as well as technological advances that are often not comprehensively tested to be proven safe or effective before marketing. H.R. 676 does not address the problem of increasing health-care costs. Rather, it allows costs to continue to grow, which will result in unaffordable coverage.
John Rother, AARP's former chief lobbyist, said the single-payer model would “disrupt the system that is currently in place” and “would require a very significant tax increase.” But Rother admitted that it would be possible to design a system that would avoid these problems and function well. AARP's priorities now are to protect the current programs and implement the Affordable Care Act. Rother said that any effort to promote single payer would be undercutting health reform. Rother said. “To go to a single-payer you do have to trust government. The climate we’re in right now is a very hostile climate for something like that.”
Rother also thought that an educational effort on the benefits of single payer would undercut the ACA. AARP has not published any material relating to single-payer health insurance on its website, in its several hundred page policy book, or through its Public Policy Institute.
In June, 2011, AARP dropped its longstanding opposition to cutting Social Security benefits. In 2005 AARP led the effort to kill President George W. Bush's plan for partial privatization. AARP now has concluded that change is inevitable, and it wants to be at the table to try to minimize the pain. "The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens," said John Rother, AARP's policy chief and a prime mover for the new position. AARP declined to join a coalition of about 300 unions, women's groups and liberal advocacy organizations created to fight Social Security benefit cuts. "The coalition's role was to kind of anchor the left, and our role is going to be to actually get something done," said Rother.
In an editorial column within the Los Angeles Times, critic Dale Van Atta wrote that AARP does unauthorized lobbying for its membership, and lobbies against the best interests of its membership. Van Atta says that by lobbying for the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, AARP leaders betrayed the membership.
According to an Annenberg Public Policy Center report, critics have said AARP had a conflict of interest in supporting the Act, because AARP “derives income from the sale of health and life insurance policies,” by licensing its brand to insurance dealers such as New York Life, and would benefit financially from passage of the legislation.
In 2004 BusinessWeek said questions have arisen in the past about whether AARP's commercial interests may conflict with those of its membership, and characterizes many of the funds and insurance policies that AARP markets as providing considerably less benefit than seniors could get on their own.
Approximately 60,000 AARP members quit AARP between July 1 and August 18, 2009, in a controversy that arose over AARP's support for U.S. health care reform. FOX News stated, "The Atlanta-based American Seniors Association, which is opposed to President Obama's health care plan, is trying to capitalize on growing public dissatisfaction with the AARP." AARP spokesman Drew Nannis responded that AARP loses about 300,000 members a month on average, and the controversial 60,000 of those that had left had specified leaving over the Health Care debate. Nannis also stated that the AARP gained 400,000 members and that 1.5 million members renewed their memberships within the same period of time. The American Seniors Association is a for-profit organization operated by the American Seniors Association Holding Group, Inc (ASAHG, Inc). 
- ^ AARP Mission Statement
- ^ Robert W. Kolb Encyclopedia of Business Ethics and Society (5 volumes),v. 1 p. 1, SAGE, 2008 ISBN 978-1-4129-1652-3
- ^ AARP.org
- ^ AARP puts full force of 40 million members behind Congress’ efforts to give Medicare Rx bargaining power[dead link]
- ^ Krugman, Paul. "Demographics and Destiny". The New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9403E4D6133EF933A15753C1A960958260&sec=&pagewanted=print.
- ^ Charles P. Blahaus Reforming Social Security for Ourselves and Our Posterity, pp. 84–5, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000 ISBN 978-0-275-97044-4
- ^ "Congress right to investigate AARP". Editorial. Des Moines Register. April 11, 2011. http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20110411/OPINION03/104110302/1024/pbcs.dll/Congress-right-challenge-AARP. Retrieved 2011-05-10. "In the mid-1990s Congress launched an investigation, asking questions about its tax status and business ventures. That was led by former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming. When the Register interviewed him several years later, he was still troubled by AARP's practices. Simpson told us the organization was "the biggest marketing operation in America and money-maker." What the organization does "is the greatest abuse of American generosity I witnessed in my time in the U.S. Senate," he said."
- ^ AARP History
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- ^ Drive to End Hunger website.
- ^ AARP news release. "AARP Financial Announces Discontinuation of AARP Funds"
- ^ "AARP Foundation". AARP. 2011-03-31. http://www.aarp.org/aarp-foundation. Retrieved 2011-05-10.
- ^ AARP The Magazine
- ^ AARP Bulletin basic information: subtitled "The Newspaper for 50-Plus America"; published monthly 10-times per year; receipt of publication requires AARP membership and additional subscription fee. Information from: "(publication information found in each print issue)". AARP Bulletin (Washington, DC: AARP). July/August 2009. ISSN 1044-1123. OCLC 19685775
- ^ Radioprimetime.org
- ^ AARP.org
- ^ AARP Driver Safety Program History and Facts
- ^ Rand, A. Barry (1 December 2009). "Health Care Reform Marches On (online title: Why AARP Endorsed the House Health Care Bill)". AARP Bulletin (AARP Publications) 50 (10): pp. 16–17. ISSN 1044-1123. Archived from the original on 18 December 2009. http://www.webcitation.org/5m7MowZYi. Retrieved 18 December 2009. "AARP has been a strong advocate for health care reform for over 50 years....""
- ^ Barbara Berkman/Sarah D'Ambruoso Handbook of Social Work in Health and Aging, p. 820, Oxford University Press US, 2006 ISBN 978-0-19-517372-7
- ^ Larry N. Gerston American Federalism, p. 79, M. E. Sharpe, 2007 ISBN 978-0-7656-1672-2
- ^ AARP, Business Roundtable and SEIU Partner to Spur Action on Health Care, Long-term Financial Security. January 16, 2007
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- ^ Bill Novelli Fifty Plus, p. xi, Macmillan, 2007 ISBN 978-0-312-35478-7
- ^ a b Pear, Robert (17 April 2007). "AARP Says It Will Become Major Medicare Insurer While Remaining a Consumer Lobby". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/17/health/17insure.html.
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- ^ AARP Press Release accessed 17 April 2007 Archived May 19, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
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- ^ "Medicare advantage plans". aarpmedicareplans.com. https://www.aarpmedicareplans.com/landing/medicare-advantage-plans.html?WTredirect=AARPMedicareComplete.com&WT.mc_ID=.
- ^ a b c hould universal care advocates bite their tongues on single-payer? Remapping Debate, June 8, 2011, By Mike Alberti
- ^ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304186404576389760955403414.html Key Seniors Association Pivots on Benefit Cut] By LAURA MECKLER, Wall Street Journal, JUNE 17, 2011
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- ^ By Raising Its Voice, AARP Raises Questions BusinessWeek, 14 March 2005, accessed 7 January 2008
- ^ "AARP, Losing Members Over Health Care, Faces Challenge From Grassroots Senior Advocacy Group". Fox News. 2009-08-18. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/08/18/aarp-losing-members-health-care-faces-challenge-grassroots-senior-advocacy/. Retrieved 2009-09-22.
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- Lynch, Frederick R. One Nation Under AARP: The Fight Over Medicare, Social Security, and America's Future (University of California Press; 2011) 288 pages;
- Morris, Charles R. The AARP: America's Most Powerful Lobby and the Clash of Generations (Crown, 1996). ISBN 0-8129-2753-2
- AARP official website, with official history, financial reports, and mission statement
- AARP new membership website
- ASA official website
- Overview of AARP from Hoover's
- A critical history of AARP by the competing organization, 60 Plus Association
- Report on AARP lobbying from OpenSecrets.org
- Detailed history of recent AARP lobbying from the publication The American Prospect.
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