Founded in 1958 by Dr. Ethel Percy, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has been dedicated to addressing the needs and interests of older Americans. Percy felt that older Americans could attain a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment by remaining physically and intellectually active in society, thus came about his idea to form the AARP. The AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership organization open to anyone, working or retired, over the age of 50. Based in Washington, D.C., the AARP pursues its goals through service, advocacy, and education. The AARP’s ultimate goal is to help older Americans achieve lives of independence, dignity, and purpose. The AARP is spread nationwide through local chapters and is run mainly by volunteer board members at the local and national levels. The 33 million members of the AARP can expect many benefits as well as support from the AARP. The wide range of services span anywhere from movie tickets to grants for re- search. The AARP also has many publications in the form of audio and publications. The most famous of these publications is the bimonthly Modern Maturity which targets all readers interested in AARP issues. The issues and goals the AARP advocates span a great deal throughout the political, economic, and social arena. While diverse in its areas of interest, the AARP mainly concentrates on social issues. Being a nonpartisan organization, the AARP does not nationally endorse or contribute any money to the campaigns of any candidate running for national positions including presidency. Politics in the AARP is basically left to the individual to decide whom he/she will support. The only participation the AARP takes is through the AARP/VOTE program.
The goals of the AARP/VOTE program are to educate AARP members and the general public about important economic, health and consumer issues, and about the positions taken by candidates for public office on these issues. They also inform candidates and elected officials of AARP’s positions on key policy issues and help elected officials be more responsive to the needs of their districts or states by promoting effective communication with their constituents. AARP/VOTE is successful because of its effective methods used to bring the candidate and constituent closer together. They use techniques such as candidate forums where the candidates visit local chapters, questionnaires that candidates fill out, and voter registration drives. Besides the AARP/Vote program, the AARP gets through political pressure from the grass roots level by a well structured system of events. This system of events can be summarized in four basic steps. The first being Obtaining Member Input. This step involves the local level members providing input about legislative issues of concern in any area. The input is provided in form of thousands of letters of concern which is reviewed by the National Legislative Council of the AARP. If enough support for an issue is found to be present among the majority of the members then it goes on to the next step which is the Decision Making of the National Legislative Council and Board of Directors. At this level, the National Council and Board of directors decide which issues to support and include these new issues into the AARP’s federal and state policy agenda for the year. The Council and Board interact with Congressional and government leaders. Leaders read over and respond to the AARP’s policy and debate over issues of concern. Once revisions are made to the policy agenda, a final draft is made and is distributed in many forms to anyone interested. The third step, Disseminating and Implementing Legislative Policy, includes lobbying in Washington D.C. and testifying regularly on Capitol Hill about the AARP’s federal and state policy for that year. While action is being taken in Washington, the AARP is also educating members on the new policy. The final step would be Ongoing Policy Analysis. At this level the AARP reviews and analyses federal response policies to see if they are consistent with AARP policy. Recommendations are logged into a working draft of the upcoming year’s policy book and the process of interacting with the federal government starts all over again. The AARP is concerned with economic issues such as the financing of Social Security and Medicare, trust funds, the federal deficit, and COLAs or Cost of Living Adjustments to health care services. The AARP believes only modest changes need to made to Social Security in order to keep it going into the 21st century. The rising cost of health services is a threat to Medicare and the AARP feels the solution is to get the nation’s entire health care system under control. Another reason why the AARP is so optimistic about Social Security is because of trust funds. The trust funds are estimated to have $460 billion in assets in 1995. Even if nothing is done to strengthen Social Security, there is enough money to pay benefits for 35 years. Modest changes will be needed to extend the trust funds well beyond that time. With regards to the federal deficit, the AARP is for the reduction of the deficit and is willing to pay their share as long as it doesn’t single out and overburden older Americans for an unfair share of the cost.
Probably the most extreme position the AARP takes is on the financing of health care reform. Their possible list of solutions include payroll taxes, increase in income taxes, VAT or value added taxes, and an excise tax on alcohol and tobacco. Finally, the AARP feels the CPI or Consumer Price Index number should consider the CPI-E or Consumer Price Index for the Elderly when calculating the rate of inflation with the CES or Consumer Expenditure Survey. The premise underlying a CPI-E is that older people’s purchasing patterns differ significantly from the rest of the population, particularly those age 65 and older. For example, older persons spend a larger share of their incomes on medical care, and medical care prices are far out-pacing general inflation. Therefore, a CPI-E could reflect a higher rate of inflation; its use in COLA calculations would protect older persons from rising medical costs. Finally, social issues that dominate the AARP include transit for the elderly, fighting age discrimination, pro generic drugs, general health care and home care reform, anti-mandatory retirement, and the elderly and driving issues. To begin with, the AARP advocates that federal, state and local governments should consider the mobility needs of all citizens in comprehensive transportation planning. Options such as vehicles accessible by physically-disabled citizens, transportation vouchers and other innovative transit services should be considered. Also, private sector and community resources should support local government transportation efforts. For example, some AARP chapters and Retired Teachers Association (RTA) units already sponsor special transportation systems at the local level. Other civic organizations and businesses can do the same. Such initiatives are becoming increasingly important in the delivery of local transportation services. Third, innovative transportation alternatives ,such as transit service routes and safe pedestrian walkways with proximity to housing and services, must be included in all community development planning. The AARP is fighting age discrimination through education, legislation, and litigation. Through education, the AARP is making workers more aware of their rights under the law, helping eliminate negative stereotypes about older workers, and helping employers recognize the value and experience of older workers. Through legislation, the AARP is urging Congress to remove any exceptions to the law making it illegal to discriminate in employment on the basis of age. Litigation comes in the form numerous “friend-of-the-court” briefs in significant cases involving the interpretation of the ADEA. The AARP is pro generic drugs mainly because Medicare does not cover outpatient prescription drugs, which are the second largest out-of-pocket health expense for older persons, after long-term care. They don’t feel consumers should pay more money for the same product. On the issue of long term health care, the AARP feels there is a need for strong reform. For more than three decades, AARP has taken a leadership role on health and long- term care issues, and considers health care reform a national priority. AARP stands firmly for a system that provides high- quality, affordable health and long-term care for all Americans. Currently America’s health care costs are skyrocketing out of control. More than 37 million Americans have no health insurance ,one-fourth of them are children, and another 20 million are underinsured. Two of the greatest health care needs for older Americans, long-term care and prescription drugs, can be a tremendous expense, and, unfortunately, many persons lack any insurance coverage for these costs.
With regards to the national health care debate, although many different plans have been proposed by the Democrats; to increase government control and cut government spending on health care, and Republicans; to privatize health care and cut spending on health care, the one issue that the AARP is interested in, is one that will not jeopardize the quality of health care in the U.S. Any such threat provokes action by the AARP. Another one of the major goals of the AARP’s nationwide health care campaign is the development of a range of long-term care services that will enable individuals to receive the help they need in the least restrictive setting possible. This is known as home care. Remaining at home helps many older persons maintain social ties and involvement with the community and family and helps preserve their sense of independence and security. It may also help reduce the strain that excessive hospital or nursing home bills can cause during a long-term illness or disability. The AARP also advocates against laws that mandate early retirement. They feel that individuals should be able to work as long as they are willing and able to work. Letting older persons work longer would also benefit Social Security and private pensions by increasing the amount of contributions with more people working and by delaying payments. Finally, the AARP stands firmly against age-related driver testing. They say it is discriminatory and isn’t the solution to the elderly’s driving problems. The solution the AARP proposes is education. They would like to educate the elderly more about driving as well as having tougher tests when renewing driver’s licenses. Another suggestion is to have more conspicuous and highly visible road signs. These ideas all together, says the AARP, would make roadways safer for all drivers. Thus, through this small sample of their large interest for social issues, one can get a better idea how the AARP stands. Being a member of the AARP has it’s many personal benefits as well as having the satisfaction that as an older person, one is still involved in society at the political, economic, and social levels.