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Republicans Slam AARP on Health Care Reform

A group of House Republicans is questioning AARP’s support of the Democrats’ health care overhaul efforts, saying the reform plan could prove costly to seniors enrolled in the Medicare Advantage program.Three GOP lawmakers, led by Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.), the ranking member on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, wrote a letter to AARP CEO Barry Rand expressing concern that an official with the seniors advocacy organization had suggested the health care measure would not seriously affect the benefits of Medicare Advantage, which is run by private companies.But the Republicans say that others have disagreed. They cite Stephen Hemsley, the United Healthcare CEO, as saying the company would respond to Democratic health care cuts to the Medicare program by charging higher premiums and changing benefits for Medicare Advantage.“Senior citizens in our district and across the country deserve to know the truth about how the proposals being considered in Congress would affect their health care,— said the letter, which was also signed by Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (Fla.) and Dave Reichert (Wash.).The lawmakers said AARP was “misleading seniors— by contradicting United Healthcare, which also sells insurance products in conjunction with the seniors organization. They also cited several independent analyses, including one done by the Congressional Budget Office, as predicting increased costs for Medicare Advantage beneficiaries.David Certner, AARP’s legislative policy director, said it will be up to individual companies whether to raise rates for Medicare Advantage.He also defended AARP’s credibility on health care, saying, “We are the trusted voice among older Americans.—The criticism of the organization was not new, he said.“When you don’t like the message, you go after the messenger,— he said.President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats have argued that companies that run Medicare Advantage programs are overly profiting because they are receiving 14 percent more in federal payments than the standard program.In their letter, the Republicans cited a Bloomberg story, which perhaps actually underscored the Democrats’ argument because the story reported that United Healthcare profits jumped 13 percent in the third quarter of this year, bolstered by growth in Medicare. Also in the article, Hemsley voiced optimism that the Medicare Advantage program would remain highly profitable for the company because of higher premiums and benefit changes.Republicans have been slamming AARP for months, claiming that the organization wants legislation that would make the Medicare Advantage plans less desirable. In that way, they argue, more people would move to traditional Medicare plans and buy supplemental insurance sold by AARP.The latest criticism by the GOP Members is part of a concerted effort by the Republicans to attack a number of industry associations that have been working with the Democrats on health care overhaul legislation. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said earlier this year that the American Medical Association did not have credibility on the health care issue.House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) also criticized the major brand-name drug companies for reaching a deal on health care with the Senate Finance Committee. In a letter to Billy Tauzin, the president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Boehner called the deal “short-sighted— and added that “appeasement rarely works as a conflict resolution strategy.—