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AARP breaks healthcare myths

Just call them "mythbusters."

Late last week, representatives from AARP Minnesota were in Detroit Lakes to talk health care reform -- or more specifically, the many myths that abound on both sides of what has become a hotly contested national debate.

One of the latest came from the lips of President Obama himself, said Amy McDonough, associate state director of communications for AARP.

"He (Obama) said AARP had endorsed his health care legislation (now pending in Congress)," McDonough said. "We (AARP) have not endorsed any particular piece of legislation."

(Obama retracted his statement later in the week, saying he had "misspoke" in stating that AARP had officially endorsed his plan.)

Rather than endorsing a particular piece of legislation, AARP has been concentrating its lobbying efforts on making sure whatever legislation is passed into law by Congress contains as many of AARP's priorities as possible.

"Whatever package is approved by Congress, we want it to include these priorities," McDonough added.

"We won't endorse anything unless it's satisfactory, and meets the needs of our members," added Heidi Holste, AARP's associate state director of advocacy.

The six priorities being pushed forward by AARP include the following:

n Guaranteed access to affordable health coverage for Americans aged 50 to 64. Even before the recession began, the AARP Public Policy Institute found 7.1 million adults within this age range were uninsured in 2007.

"We want to ensure affordable access to health care insurance for people (in this age range)," Holste added.

n Close the Medicare Part D drug coverage gap, also known as the "doughnut hole."

AARP would like to ensure that the "doughnut hole" is eventually closed, so older citizens aren't forced to pay insurance premiums while at the same time paying full cost for their drugs.

n Lower drug costs through use of generic biologic drugs.

Biologic drugs used to treat serious conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and anemia, can cost up to $10,000 or more a month.

Generic prescription drugs can save health care providers and consumers billions of dollars each year, but no approved process covering the cost generic alternatives is available for biologic drugs. AARP hopes to make these life-saving drugs much more available and affordable.

n Reduce costly hospital re-admissions through providing a Medicare follow-up benefit.

Follow up care for people to safely transition back home or to another setting after lifesaving medical care.

n Develop a better system for long term care and people with chronic conditions.

Not only would it save money, it would also improve the quality of life for individuals needing that type of service.

n Improve access to Medicare for low-income individuals.

But before it can start advocating for its priorities, McDonough added, AARP feels there is a more urgent need to dispel some of the myths about health care reform that are currently circulating around the U.S.

For instance, she said, the idea that health care reform will be the end of the Medicare program is a "scare tactic."

"We feel health care reform can do a lot to strengthen Medicare, crack down on fraud and abuse," said McDonough. "We would never support anything that wouldn't allow people to choose their doctor and their health plan."

And rather than health care reform leading to the government making life-and-death decisions for the public (i.e., by using a so-called "death panel), McDonough said some of the reform legislation she has seen proposed would actually help people to make their own decisions about end of life care, in consultation with their physician.

For more information about the American Association of Retired Persons, and what legislative policies they support with regard to certain issues, please visit

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454