The many faces of AARP

My wife just turned 50, so she recently experienced that least favorite American rite of passage:  the arrival of the dreaded solicitation letter from AARP.

I'm pleased to say that she took advantage of this opportunity to do precisely as I have done for the past eight years:  she immediately and with malice aforethought dropped the solicitation in the trash.

Not that she was offended by the reminder of her advanced age; rather, because she holds AARP in contempt.

So do I.

Two quick questions, dear reader:  1) Do you belong to AARP? 2) Which AARP do you belong to?

If you're confused by the second question your confusion is, in AARP's eyes, a marketing triumph.

You are likely thinking, "Which AARP? Why, I belong to the American Association of Retired Persons.  I belong to that AARP."

Surprise. There is no such thing as the American Association of Retired Persons.  The non-profit organization that was founded in 1956 to help older folks was renamed some years ago.  It's now called AARP and it exists as three separate organizations.  (Actually four, but for our purposes let's ignore the international branch.  This is confusing enough.)

The umbrella organization is a non-profit known simply as AARP.

Then there is the AARP Foundation.  It's the AARP of old, a non-profit dedicated to providing for the needs of America's retired folk, or to phrase it more accurately, to anyone 50 or older who's willing to pony up the $16 annual fee.  This is the outfit that trains older drivers, provides tax preparation assistance and provides other do-good services.

You belong to that AARP.

You also belong to the other AARP -- AARP Services, Inc., a second wholly-owned subsidiary of AARP.  This fully for-profit organization has 37 million members and total reported revenues of more than $1.4 billion per year.  AARP Services sells stuff, included branded insurance policies.

AARP Services also spends tens of millions of dollars on lobbying, including its recent effort on behalf of the Health Care Reform Act -- better known as Obamacare.

Were you under the impression that AARP promoted Obamacare because they are your enthusiastic, non-profit, fully-charitable-in-intent advocates?

Think again.  AARP Services stands to rake in more than $1 billion in new business from, you guessed it, Obamacare.

The folks who run these organizations prefer you remain confused.  After all, what they're doing may not be illegal, but the arrangement provides an excellent reminder that those who confuse what's right with what's legal are morally incompetent.

I think very highly of for-profit companies.  Ditto for non-profits.  Those who purposely confuse the two?  Not so much.

So when I see the same folks who sit on the board of directors of AARP, the umbrella non-profit organization, also sitting on the board of directors of AARP Services, Inc., its vastly profitable subsidiary, I naturally say, "Hmmm."


In "Behind the Veil: The AARP America Doesn't Know," Reps. Wally Herger (R-CA) and Dave Reichert (R-WA), point out that as the ObamaCare bill was being debated, many couldn't explain why AARP supported fully the provisions that will reduce Medicare funding by $500 billion.  The congressmen posit it was because most of the cuts will come from Medicare Advantage, a direct competitor of AARP's own Medigap insurance plan.

An editorial published in the Acadiana Gazette in Louisiana points out that Reps. Herger and Reichert are now attempting to push through a bill that would strip AARP of its tax-exempt status.  The editorial concludes: "Opening the eyes of the AARP membership to the organization's demagoguery may even expose the association in its efforts to block reforming of Social Security and Medicare to suit their own advantage rather than to the senior citizens they pretend to serve."

Given the raw political power AARP exerts, it takes a brave politician to even suggest such a bill. Bravo.  And bon chance as they say in Acadiana.

As for me, I don't and won't belong to any organization that seeks to serve first and foremost its own members' self-interests to the exclusion of others.  That is particularly true of an organization that seeks to serve the interests of folks like me, who are collectively the wealthiest, healthiest and most politically powerful constituency in the entire world.

AARP says I deserve more government goodies.

Really?   I've already been the beneficiary of the most outlandish spending spree in human history.  Me and mine have managed to put together $17 trillion in debt, a debt that we are leaving to our children.  Yes, we paid our taxes, and yes, we paid our Social Security payments.  But we didn't scream bloody murder as the politicians purchased our votes with borrowed money, nor did we toss out the bums who were pillaging the Social Security Trust Fund, replacing real money with IOUs.  We are also leaving our children and grandchildren with more than $100 trillion in unfunded mandates.

Fortunately, I have an out.  Before the merde hits the ventilateur, as they say in Acadiana, I plan to be dead.  I figure that's in about 20 years.

And yet, this is not enough for AARP. Nothing will do but that we old folks must get more "free stuff."

That's why I urge you to cancel your AARP membership(s) today.

Not ready to give up that ten percent discount at thousands of motels and hotels?  Here's an option: AAA. You get the same discount, and even better, when your car won't start the next morning they'll come out and lend you a hand.  And they won't bill your grandchildren a billion bucks for the service.

Theodore Dawes, 58, is a reporter for a weekly newspaper in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at

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