Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Do Seniors Really Oppose Healthcare Reform: Fox News Article Omits Several Crucial Details

Fox News reports that AARP is experiencing a membership backlash because the organization supports some aspects of Democrat-sponsored healthcare reform. According to the article, some seniors have slashed their AARP cards, and critical audience members forced AARP to end a healthcare townhall meeting in Dallas. The Fox article, however, fails to elaborate on some interesting and important details.

Missing Links
According to Fox's own opinion data, 56 percent of "seniors" (not defined) do not want a public plan option for "all Americans." Although the proposed healthcare legislation contains a public plan option, the plan would not be available to "all Americans."

Furthermore, Fox's data indicates that 93% of seniors rated their own coverage as "good" or "excellent." Most of these individuals, however, are probably covered by Medicare -- the nation's largest public plan. This statistic undermines the common conservative trope about the horrors of Medicare and "socialized medicine" for patients. It also calls into question the seniors' own opposition to expanding government-sponsored healthcare.

More importantly, the Fox article also reports that "[o]ther groups representing seniors say they aren't surprised by the recent backlash." In support of this claim, the article reports the views of only one other membership organization -- the American Seniors Association. The article, however, fails to disclose that ASA represents the views of conservative seniors.

The article quotes Stuart Barton, ASA's president, who says that his group receives "letters every single day from people that [sic] are very upset about this bill and about the AARP supporting it. . . ." Barton also says that he does not "blame [people] for coming back and saying they are going to tear up their AARP cards." Stunningly, the Fox article fails to report that ASA is running an open campaign on its website that encourages individuals to "tear up their AARP cards." If the individual mails in the torn-up card, he or she would become eligible for a two-year membership in ASA for the price of a one-year membership. Naturally, Barton has received some torn-up AARP cards. But this does not prove a wave of opposition to healthcare reform among seniors -- even conservative seniors.

Moreover, ASA, as an organization, openly opposes Democrat-sponsored healthcare reform. Barton has floated the utterly false notion that the proposed legislation will force people to " go to counseling every five years to basically learn how to die. . . ." Instead, the legislation would cover the costs associated with providing counseling related to living wills, medical directives, and other end-of-life issues that seniors (and others) face.

After the Terry Schiavo incident, many Americans raced to obtain living wills. This did not mean that they wanted to or expected to die. Instead, the surge demonstrated that people wanted to exercise greater control over their destinies. Providing this type of counseling is good medicine.

Often this type of advice only becomes available when, as in the Schiavo case, it is too late for the patient to participate actively in the decision making process and when friends and family members are distraught over the situation. It is difficult to understand how this component of the legislation could become a lightening rod -- absent any gross distortion of its meaning.

Additional Points
Perhaps seniors should have real concerns about healthcare reform, but I find it odd - and even hypocritical - that so many of them could oppose a public plan, given their own satisfaction with Medicare. Perhaps their real concern is with the government's planned effort to reduce the costs of Medicare to help finance healthcare reform. But saying "spend more on us, not them" is certainly not a principled conservative (or liberal) position on government-sponsored health insurance.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure Fox should have reported the political views of ASA and its president. Even though many people have nonpartisan objections to healthcare reform, this organization is clearly hostile to the proposed reforms and to AARP for supporting them. Furthermore, Fox only presented the views of this one group, even though the article states that other "groups" disagree with AARP. After digging (for just a few minutes) about ASA, I wonder how large this "backlash" against AARP really is.


Anonymous said...

I for one am not satisfied with Medicare. The calibre of the employees who answer calls is much, much lower than at our private insurer. But what can we do? We paid payroll taxes for many years for Medicare, and Medicare rules have a stranglehold on most providers and on all eligible seniors. My viewpoint is: The U.S. is stuck with Medicare, but let's not enlarge the govt's role in health care or health insurance.

Matt Osborne said...

American Seniors Association is a flimsy GOP front group. Details here.

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