[AARP & the Medicare drug
by Barbara T. Dreyfuss
The American Prospect magazine,
Last July, as the debate over a Medicare
drug bill heated up, AARP, the nation's largest senior-citizen
lobbying organization with some 35 million members, sent a letter
to Congress detailing issues that "must be fixed" before
it could endorse a final bill. Among the group's chief concerns
were "program structure and the adequacy and affordability
of the benefit package." If the legislation "does more
harm than good," AARP warned, the group would oppose it.
Coverage in the press painted an ominous picture: AARP might be
ready to pull the plug on the drug bill.
In the White House, aides to presidential
adviser Karl Rove were worried. They were counting on AARP to
help them enact a drug benefit that President Bush could champion
in his re-election bid. Now it seemed that AARP was threatening
to hang tough on key issues that the Republicans would have a
hard time endorsing.
The conference committee was getting ready
to work on a final bill. Democrats, largely excluded from the
room, had been encouraged by AARP's letter to the Hill, believing
they had an ally in opposing GOP efforts to undermine traditional
Medicare. After all, as everyone thought, AARP was, at least on
Medicare, essentially a Democratic ally. And this view was encouraged
by AARP CEO Bill Novelli, who intimated to Hill Democrats that
he was with them on the drug bill.
Barry Jackson, deputy assistant to the
president, got on the phone to Chris Hansen, AARP's associate
executive director in charge of policy, to determine if AARP was,
in fact, planning to stand tough on issues many Democrats were
It was not. After talking with Novelli
and Lisa Davis, the group's communications director, Hansen sent
Jackson a reassuring e-mail, obtained by The American Prospect
and made public here for the first time. The e-mail indicated
that AARP was really willing to settle key issues very easily.
"Privately, we are suggesting some fairly moderate ways for
handling the biggest issues in an effort to find an agreement
that can be passed," wrote Hansen, a former aerospace lobbyist.
"We are well aware of the negative advocacy that is building
from a variety of groups. Some of that advocacy is now being directed
at us. It is not going to change our course on this .... We know
that there may be details that we will message differently but
we are together on the big goal."
Democrats didn't know about Hansen's e-mail.
In fact, when recently told about it, one Democratic staffer expressed
shock and said that AARP "double-crossed us." But the
GOP's business allies saw the e-mail. The White House sent it
out to key Republican lobbyists and such groups as the National
Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable to make
sure they knew that AARP was still on board. Over the next weeks,
AARP leaders worked closely with House Speaker Dennis Hastert
and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to craft a final bill. It
passed the House on November 22 in the early morning hours, when
GOP leaders left the vote open for a totally unprecedented three
hours after they were initially unable to get the votes needed
Three days later the bill passed the Senate
and, on December 8, President Bush signed it into law, which AARP
hailed as "an important step toward fulfilling a longstanding
promise to older and disabled Americans." Suddenly, the AARP
wasn't looking like such a liberal Democratic ally.
For many Democrats, AARP's support for
last November's Medicare prescription-drug bill came as a total
shock. Not only could the law cause millions of seniors to lose
more generous employer and state-coordinated drug benefits while
providing only limited help to others; it is a major step toward
the Republican Party's goal of privatizing Medicare and decimating
employer-based health coverage.
To those few who were really watching
closely, however, AARP's actions were not a surprise at all, and
the group's conversion was anything but sudden. The story of the
Republicans' seduction of AARP unfolded over nearly a decade,
as GOP leaders cajoled, seduced, and occasionally threatened the
group's leaders into changing their ways and accepting the reality
of Republican congressional control. Today, with bad policy already
law, the stakes are incredibly high, as regulations to implement
the law loom, along with bills to repeal some of its worst aspects.
And they will grow higher still if President Bush is re-elected
and Republicans can continue toward their ultimate goals. As the
battle to preserve Medicare unfolds, Democrats who were surprised
by the bill's passage last November should understand a key part
of the story, which has not been told, of how it happened.
Possibly the least surprised man in Washington
last fall was Newt Gingrich. The former House speaker, who told
a Blue Cross conference in 1995 that Medicare as a "government
monopoly plan" was going to "wither on the vine"
in favor of a Republican-designed "free-market plan,"
has spent the last nine years manipulating AARP.
Aided by a coterie of Republican representatives
and lobbyists, as well as a headhunter firm whose Washington office
is run by a Republican operative, Gingrich helped maneuver AARP
from the Democratic to the Republican column. The crucial moment
arrived in June 2001, with the ascent to the executive director
post of Novelli, who centralized policy making by limiting input
from local AARP leaders and who brought with him a team of corporate
executives to run the group's federal and state policy-people
much more comfortable with Republicans, open to private plans
and market-oriented policies, and more willing to make deals than
many of the veteran staff.
Gingrich waxes eloquent about Novelli,
who, he told me in a recent interview, "has a long history
of supporting individual responsibility in health care and doesn't
want seniors dependent on government handouts." Novelli,
in turn, felt so comfortable with Gingrich that he invited him
to join an advisory panel Novelli had crafted from associates
he I has met over the years. The panel meetings, which have since
concluded, discussed AARP's future strategies, as well as insurance
and other products that AARP might offer. Novelli says, "l
started an advisory committee to the CEO because I wanted to test
the idea that outside, independent, creative thinkers could help
me and our senior management acquire new perspectives. The committee
included people from every sector and political stripe."
For Gingrich, the Medicare bill is just
the beginning. The former House speaker hopes that Novelli's AARP
will help him remake the entire employer-based health-care system
as well. And he has reason to be optimistic. Gingrich asked the
AARP chief to write the introduction to his new book about transforming
health care, Saving Lives and Saving Money. In it, Gingrich lambastes
the current health-insurance system, instead advocating one in
which a person has "an economic interest in his or her own
health and is the primary guardian of how his or her own money
is spent." Novelli does not distance himself from Gingrich's
ideas. In his foreword, he writes that "Gingrich's ideas
are influencing how we at AARP are thinking about our national
role" in the health-care debate. He says he wrote the foreword
because "whether one agrees or not with Gingrich's politics,
the book has interesting and important ideas about transforming
the American health care system."
Asked specifically whether he agrees with
Gingrich's criticism of the current third-party health-insurance
system, Novelli leaves the door open. "AARP does not have
a policy on changing the third-party system," he told me.
"But in order to sustain an important program like Medicare,
when the number of beneficiaries and health-care costs continue
to rise, policy-makers must consider viable changes to how the
program is financed and operated. This applies to the entire American
health-care system as well."
Of course, AARP was never considered militant.
It was founded as an insurance business in 1958, and the organization,
then called the American Association of Retired Persons, opposed
the creation of Medicare. (Its name was changed in 1999 to simply
AARP, just an abbreviation, to de-emphasize its focus on retirement
issues such as Medicare and to attract baby boomers still in the
workforce.) It never developed an activist orientation, and for
many years its focus was on selling insurance. In 2002, about
24 percent of its operating revenue came from health-insurance-related
But its leadership in Washington, and
around the country, consisted mostly of Democrats committed to
maintaining Medicare as a strong government-run program. AARP
helped pass a major expansion of Medicare in 1988. With Democrats
controlling the House for 40 years, AARP's lobbying efforts in
defense of Medicare were never really tested because the only
argument that ever took place among Democrats revolved around
how much to expand the government-run program.
But that changed after Republicans swept
Congress in the 1994 elections. Republicans targeted Medicare
for major cuts, but they knew that AARP would be a formidable
obstacle. Some Republicans could not stomach working with an AARP
that then-Majority Leader Trent Lott called an "arm of the
Democratic National Committee." Others felt that AARP was
"the enemy" that had to be replaced by newly created,
Republican-controlled senior groups. But Gingrich, from the beginning,
believed that AARP could be, as one Republican congressional staffer
put it to me, "defanged."
When the Republicans took control of Congress
in 1995, AARP was headed by the soft-spoken, mild-mannered Horace
Deets. A former priest, Deets had worked his way up at AARP beginning
in 1975. In 1988, Deets became acting executive director when
AARP's chief, Republican Jack Carlson, a former U.S. Chamber of
Commerce executive and Nixon administration official, was forced
out after only four months. Carlson ran afoul of the board because
he was not a staunch advocate of government social-insurance programs,
instead backing private-sector solutions.
After the Carlson experience, AARP's board
wanted to make sure that the next executive director would be
someone committed to a government social-insurance program, as
well as someone with a management style more attuned to a consumer-advocacy
group. Deets apparently fit the bill and, after only two months,
was given the executive director slot, a position he held until
his retirement in 2001.
Gingrich had courted AARP even before
the 1994 Republican congressional victories. He was introduced
around by Marty Corry, who headed AARP's federal-affairs office
then and recently became a special assistant to former Medicare
chief Tom Scully, playing an important role in brokering the Medicare
prescription-drug deal. Corry wanted to reach out to Gingrich,
the likely speaker, should the Republicans take control of the
House. After the election, Gingrich and his aides held a series
of regular breakfast meetings with Deets and senior policy staff.
But GOPers excluded AARP staff members they believed were less
malleable. One was John Rother, then AARP's legislative director.
"We always saw Rother as a [Democratic National Committee]
apparatchik," says Ed Kutler, who was Gingrich's chief health-care
staffer at the time. The GOP-AARP meetings expanded to include
Republican leaders Tom DeLay, John Kasich, and Bill Archer.
Throughout the early period of GOP control,
congressional leaders maintained a steady drumbeat about the need
to make Medicare cuts. Naively, perhaps, AARP leaders believed
they were starting to convince Republicans that cuts weren't the
only way to maintain the program's solvency, that costs had to
be contained. But Republicans like Gingrich and Thomas, who agreed
that costs should be curbed, insisted that the only way to do
so was by getting private insurers to run the program, something
AARP opposed. While AARP was sitting down to breakfast with the
GOP leadership, these same leaders were launching an onslaught
against Medicare as part of their budget-balancing goal. Republicans
proposed taking the bulk of government cuts from beneficiaries
as well as health-care providers. Their plan included cutting
$270 billion from Medicare over seven years, including a whopping
$51 billion from beneficiary payments.
While the House leadership was quietly
courting AARP, in the Senate, the acerbic Alan Simpson declared
all-out war against the group. Helping to orchestrate Simpson's
effort was his aide Chuck Blohaus, now a White House domestic
policy official, whose expertise is privatization of Social Security.
Blohaus 'blitzkrieg would have the effect of softening up AARP
even further to Gingrich's seduction.
In April 1995, Simpson launched an investigation
into AARP's finances, including its receipt of government grants,
which expanded in June into public hearings on the organization's
tax-exempt status. "After the hearing, I said to them, 'I
want to talk to your board," Simpson gloats. He told them
that Deets, whom he derides as "a Svengali, a puppeteer,"
was manipulating them. Privately, according to former AARP officials,
Simpson also told AARP that he might not pursue his investigation
so intensely if the group would back off its fight against Republican
balanced-budget efforts. "People like Simpson, who started
looking at AARP early on, may have had the effect of moving them
toward the middle of the political spectrum," says Jim Link,
a former Simpson staffer.
Aiding Simpson were a coterie of "seniors"
groups that had been created by arch-conservative and direct-mail
guru Richard Viguerie, including the United Seniors Association,
the Seniors Coalition, and the 60 Plus Association. They hired
former Republican representatives to lobby and coordinate activities.
Although founded years earlier, none of these groups were very
active on Capitol Hill until the Republican takeover.
Suddenly they were invited to testify
in support of Republican Medicare cuts. Jim Martin, president
of the 60 Plus Association, testified in 1995 against AARP, arguing
that as a lobbying group, it should not be allowed to receive
federal grant money. Through public statements and reports detailing
AARP activities and finances, these groups attempted to discredit
AARP. A bumper sticker distributed by 60 Plus declared, "AARP:
Association Against Retired Persons."
Deets remains defensive about that period,
insisting that the Gingrich-Simpson good cop-bad cop routine had
no effect on his former organization. "We clearly had a difference
of opinion on how to reduce the deficit, and the [Simpson] hearings
produced absolutely nothing," says Deets. "l can only
see them as a way to embarrass and weaken us in the public eye.
They didn't succeed."
But Deets is wrong. While AARP lobbyists
may have continued to oppose Republican budget cuts behind the
scenes, Gingrich's courting and Simpson's vitriol did blunt AARP's
public attack on the Republican budget policies and help to distract
and wear down the group's lobbyists. "We were aware [Simpson]
was looking over our shoulder," admitted one former senior
Perhaps there was little that AARP could
have done to stop the Republican onslaught that year. But while
other senior groups such as the labor-allied National Council
of Senior Citizens were demonstrating against the Republican policies
in the summer of 1995, AARP waited until October to launch its
ads, mailings, and rallies against the Republican balanced budget
policies. In late November, Congress passed a plan to slash a
whopping $270 billion from future Medicare spending. Only opposition
from the Clinton White House stopped its implementation.
By 1997, AARP was working closely with
Republican House leaders to craft the Balanced Budget Act of 1997,
which again made significant, although less severe, cuts in the
program and took a major leap in opening Medicare to private insurers.
Republican efforts to decimate Medicare
had, throughout 1996, been blunted-by presidential vetoes, government
shutdowns when Congress and the White House could not agree to
a budget, Republican election losses due to GOP support for $270
billion Medicare cuts, and opposition by Democrats. But by 1997,
the Clinton White House and Republican congressional leaders were
ready to have serious discussions on a balanced-budget deal and
agreed on many of the provider payment cuts. Yet several key contentious
issues remained, including how much to pay HMOs, their role in
Medicare, how much to increase what Medicare enrollees paid, whether
to make wealthier beneficiaries pay more for coverage, and whether
to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.
AARP made a crucial decision. Rather than
maintain an aura as a Democratic-leaning organization, it decided
to promote itself as nonpartisan and to work closely with Speaker
Gingrich on the details of a budget bill. Key Republican leaders
such as Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas hoped to
dramatically expand the role of private insurers in Medicare as
part of the Balanced Budget Act. Democrats by this time were entreating
AARP to "kill the privatization scheme in its cradle,"
but those entreaties were refused. In the end, the Balanced Budget
Act created the Medicare Plus-Choice program, which allowed beneficiaries
to enroll in a broad array of private insurance programs beyond
HMOs. AARP officials believed that they had blunted some of the
worst aspects of the programs. But some Hill Democrats contend
that, by working with Gingrich, AARP had stymied efforts to improve
aspects of the budget bill.
Throughout, AARP made no public criticisms
of Republican plans. Gingrich credits the group's silence with
keeping the managed-care provisions in the bill. Gingrich said
in an October 2003 interview with the online version of Health
Affairs, "When all the vicious, mean ads came out, the average
senior citizen read his AARP bulletin ... and said, 'Well, that
scare stuff sure can't be true because AARP would be raising hell
if it was true." 'Today, Gingrich says that he "worked
hand in glove with [Deets] and his staff on the Medicare Reform
Act that we signed into law in 1997. And we could not have passed
that without [Deets'] help."
During these same years, AARP was very
reticent about taking prominent stands on such important issues
as healthcare reform or a Medicare prescription-drug benefit.
The group gave very limited support to the Clinton Health Security
Act and gave only modest support to Democratic congressional health-care-reform
efforts that came later. But on the state level, with staff and
volunteers that were often more activist than the national officers,
there was more clamoring for curbs on drug prices, as well as
universal health insurance. In Wisconsin and California, for example,
local AARP volunteers began advocating universal state-run health-care
plans. In some cases, AARP's national office did help local people
draft more progressive proposals.
In 1998, Deets talked privately about
retiring, and in January 2000, he brought Novelli into AARP in
a newly created position overseeing public policy, communications,
human resources, and advertising. Novelli says he decided to take
the job in order to have a shot at being CEO. Deets knew Novelli
from the 1980s, when Novelli's public-relations firm, Porter-Novelli,
did a health campaign for AARP.
As AARP was getting ready for a transition
in early 2001, the larger political scene underwent a major change
of its own. Suddenly AARP was faced with a Republican in the White
House, as well as GOP control of Congress. A former AARP legislative
staffer describes the mood at AARP as fatalistic, saying, "People
said Republicans are setting the agenda and there is not much
we can do." Gingrich, who was now in the private sector but
still keeping an eye on AARP, saw an opportunity to cement a relationship
between the new administration and the seniors' group. He contacted
the Bush transition team. Josh Bolton, in line to be White House
policy director, called AARP, which flew staff to Texas to talk
to the new administration.
That May, the AARP's board announced that
Novelli would succeed Deets. But before Deets left, he brought
Novelli in to meet with Hastert, Thomas, and White House health
Gingrich had first talked extensively
with Novelli at the farewell dinner for Deets and was delighted
to find himself very comfortable with the new executive director.
"We really met the night they had a going away party for
Horace Deets, and they asked me to be one of the speakers at the
dinner," Gingrich says. "Afterward, we were so simpatico
in our affection for [Deets] and our concern for finding solutions
for the baby boomers, and that's really what brought us together."
Although they didn't have any direct involvement
in Novelli's selection, Republicans were concerned about maintaining,
and perhaps increasing, relationships with AARP. The fact that
AARP's top post was available was discussed at a March 2001 meeting
of the "K Street Project," according to the newspaper
Roll Call. The group includes prominent GOP lobbyists and Hill
members led by Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum.
It meets regularly to discuss policy and job openings. Other articles
about the K Street Project also appeared at the time.
Leaks about the Republican powwow were
hardly coincidental. They were designed to get the message across
that associations and corporate offices had to hire people who
could work with Republicans if they wanted to get anything done
in Washington, say Republican insiders. "You don't necessarily
have to call and tell an association you want them to hire more
people able to work with Republicans," says Grover Norquist,
president of Americans for Tax Reform and one of Washington's
most important Republican strategists. Norquist says that when
newspapers reported about the "K Street Strategy," which
he helped create, the message was clear. "It's an open conspiracy,"
he says, "not a closed one."
Many Democrats were hopeful that Novelli,
an affable man with a grandfatherly smile and a "brilliant
marketing mind," in the words of one acquaintance, would
make AARP a strong active force for social progress. He was known
for efforts to promote public-health campaigns through social
marketing, and as a leader in the efforts to stop teen smoking.
But had Democrats looked, they would have
seen, sprinkled throughout Novelli's career, warnings of what
was to come. Novelli had first honed his marketing skills on behalf
of Richard Nixon. He worked in 1972 with the November Group, the
in-house advertising unit that helped devise attack ads against
George McGovern. Then, during the 1980s, he turned his marketing
skills toward helping the pharmaceutical industry. Although Porter-Novelli
is often touted as a social marketing firm because of the public-health
campaigns it did for such federal agencies as the National Cancer
Institute, it used its government work to attract corporate clients.
When Novelli left Porter-Novelli in 1990, the firm's clients included
Bristol-Myers, Ciba-Geigy, Hoechst-Roussel, Hoffman-La Roche,
Marion Merrill Dow, SmithKline Beecham, and the trade group Pharmaceutical
Key Republican insiders first worked extensively
with Novelli when he headed the National Center for Tobacco Free
Kids. Novelli likes to cite his work for this organization as
proof of his concern for consumer interests. But activists charge
that he accepted a very bad deal that protected the tobacco industry;
the settlement put the tobacco industry under nominal Food and
Drug Administration oversight, but it also immunized the industry
from class-action lawsuits and punitive damages. Critics further
charge that Novelli's tactics split the movement, preventing efforts
on Capitol Hill to toughen the agreement. To sell the plan on
Capitol Hill, Novelli hired the man who had been Gingrich's closest
congressional ally, Vin Weber, along with Ed Kutler, Gingrich's
former health staffer. They helped the staff at Tobacco-Free Kids
get comfortable talking to Hill Republicans. GOPers who worked
with Novelli then say he was very open to discussions and "very
But many leaders of the anti-tobacco movement
who watched the way Novelli operated on the Medicare bill felt
like they were watching a rerun of a bad old movie. When AARP
jumped on the Republican's Medicare bandwagon last year, "E-mails
started zooming throughout the anti-tobacco community saying,
'It's Bill Novelli, at it again," says leading tobacco-control
activist Stanton Glantz of the University of California, San Francisco's
Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.
When Novelli took control at AARP, he
began to exert greater control over the organization's national
network and to centralize its message. It was a move that may
have helped isolate the national staff from more activist local
"Before, the national people were
interested in what we said at the local level and ... [we] would
suggest changes that went to the national legislative committee,"
asserts Paul Kusuda, who was a member of Wisconsin's State Legislative
Committee and its Capital City Task Force. Now, he says, AARP
has a different view of "grass roots-it's dictated from the
top, not by the bottom."
Jason Kay, a former AARP legislative staffer
in the Midwest, noted that Novelli started to "centralize
a lot of what the organization put forward as its face."
"In the good old days, AARP was very attuned to its members,"
says Judy Kohler, who worked on advocacy in the AARP's Midwest
region until 2001. "We got input from chapters on what was
important in the states." At the same time, Novelli severed
the accountability of AARP's board to the membership. The national
delegate convention's role in electing the board was eliminated,
and now a self-selecting nominating committee chooses it.
Today, people who ruffle too many feathers
are leaving or are not invited back into leadership roles. Susan
Catania, former AARP Illinois state president, was not asked to
continue in that role in 2002. She had become very upset with
the national office for refusing to back a prescription-discount-card
plan in the state legislature, a plan AARP staff originally helped
draft. Illinois state Representative Jack Franks, the Democrat
who sponsored the bill, which was enacted into law last year,
says, "Susan Catania supported my bill and they unceremoniously
Meanwhile, while exerting more control
over the organization nationally, Novelli sought Washington staff
who could reach out to Republicans. "[Gingrich] credits Novelli
with recognizing [that] if they wanted a prescription-drug bill,
that was what he'd have to do to get it with a Republican Congress,"
says Dan Meyer, former chief of staff for Gingrich. To find the
right people, Novelli called on the executive search firm Korn/Ferry
International and its managing director, Nels Olson, a well-connected
Republican. Olson had worked in the first Bush White House, and
in the 2000 campaign helped George W.'s communications campaign
team. In 2002, Olson brought in a premier aerospace lobbyist,
Chris Hansen, a 26-year industry veteran, as the AARP's director
of advocacy, overseeing all its lobbying.
Why would an aerospace executive be a
useful addition to a public-policy advocacy group? Hansen "understands
the employer perspective," says Ed Kaleta, who heads government
affairs for Caterpillar Inc. and coordinates the Business Roundtable's
health task force. Although Hansen is not considered an ideologue,
he is open to private plans and market-oriented approaches, according
to people who have worked with him on health issues. Hansen demurs.
He says he does not believe Medicare's financial problems "are
insurmountable, nor does it mean we have to shift the cost to
individuals or to privatize things."
Hansen soon moved up to oversee all grass-roots
and community-service work, as well as lobbying and policy. Korn/Ferry
then helped Hansen bring in Mike Naylor to take Hansen's old job
overseeing the lobbying. Naylor had spent the last 18 years as
a government-relations executive for such corporations as John
Deere and Allied-Signal. Novelli says that bringing in new people
"changed the culture at AARP, making it more aggressive and
agile." And more accepting of a market-oriented approach
to health care.
It was Novelli, Hansen, and Naylor who
orchestrated the AARP's approach to the Medicare prescription-drug
bill, working closely with Hastert and Frist. Frist had first
developed a good working relationship with AARP when Deets was
invited to be on the board of the Alliance for Health Reform,
set up by Frist and Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller.
Gingrich, who was helping the House leadership
keep reluctant conservatives behind the bill, had always counted
on AARP being willing to negotiate, rather than acting as an advocacy
group. In a conference call last August to members of his health-care
think tank, Gingrich stated, according to a summary, "[T]he
internal debate for the administration is whether the center of
focus is on pleasing the Senate Democrats or on pleasing AARP.
They can't possibly pass a bill that has both groups opposed to
it. My bet is on AARP." It appears that Gingrich's bet paid
AARP is now at a crossroads. About 60,000
members have already quit in outrage over the law, and a March
USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll shows a majority of both enrollees and
the general public now opposing it. The group has given its imprimatur
to policies that will in fact cover only about 25 percent of seniors'
prescription-drug costs and prevent those who enroll from purchasing
any supplemental insurance to cover the difference. Beyond that,
the law may spell the beginning of the end for publicly financed
and run health care for the elderly and will call into question
the future of employer-sponsored insurance for workers. Opposition
to the measure is likely to grow as seniors increasingly understand
its provisions, which include caps on federal Medicare payments,
a voucher program, a significant boost to private insurers, and
the means testing of beneficiary payments. And their anger over
the drug provisions will likely grow as many lose generous employer
and state benefits in return for barebones coverage. What's more,
workers are likely to feel the impact next year as employers offer
them the costly and skimpy plans allowed under the new law.
AARP has maintained that it couldn't wait
for a perfect bill, that the group's option was to take what passed
or have nothing. Now the question for it will be whether it will
back efforts by Democrats to repeal the worst aspects of the law
and provide a real drug benefit.
Barbara T. Dreyfuss is a freelance writer.