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AARP Strategist Replaces Ralph Neas at Health Care Coalition

The shake-up continued in the Washington, D.C., health care advocacy world Thursday as the National Coalition on Health Care announced that veteran AARP strategist John Rother will replace Ralph G. Neas as the NCHC’s president and CEO.

Neas announced Wednesday his new post as president and CEO of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association.

Rother has logged more than 27 years at AARP, most recently as executive vice president of policy. He helped usher the seniors group through close to three decades of growth, transition and hard-fought policy battles, including last year’s health care overhaul.

“Obviously I’ve devoted most of my life to the AARP, so it’s with very mixed emotions that I move on to a new challenge,” Rother said in an interview. The move to the NCHC gives him “a chance to be CEO and run my own show,” Rother said, and to work with major stakeholder groups on an issue that he said is now driving economic and public policy: containing health care costs.

“The challenge of escalating costs, both public sector and private, is the dominant issue in public policy today — at least on the domestic side,” Rother said. “And it’s the issue that was really left open after the passage of the Affordable Care Act.”

Rother’s departure comes at a time when the AARP faces fresh competition from new senior citizen advocacy groups, including the conservative American Seniors Association and the 60 Plus Association. Both groups sought to capitalize on a controversy over Rother’s comments earlier this summer to the Wall Street Journal about the feasibility of reforming Social Security. AARP labored to clarify that the group remains opposed to a Social Security overhaul.

Rother stressed that his departure reflects no internal conflict. “I only have fond memories, and I’m looking forward to a very close collaboration” with the AARP, which is a member of the NCHC, he said. Rother will also continue to work with Neas in his capacity as head of the GPhA.

An immediate focus for both Rother and Neas is sure to be the deficit reduction debate, which includes proposed Medicare reforms. Rother said the coalition strongly feels that raising the Medicare retirement age would not raise money and would simply shift costs elsewhere.

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