Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

August 26, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Health Care Reform


  • Ritch Steven, Chair of the AARP Arizona Advocacy Network, shares his views on health care reform.
Guests:
  • Ritch Steven - Chair, AARP Arizona Advocacy Network
Category: Medical/Health

View Transcript
Ted Simons: THIS WEEK ON "HORIZON" WE'RE FEATURING DISCUSSIONS ON HEALTH CARE REFORM. TONIGHT WE CONTINUE OUR SERIES OF CONVERSATIONS WITH RITCH STEVEN, CHAIRMAN OF THE AARP ARIZONA ADVOCACY NETWORK. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US ON "HORIZON."

Ritch Steven: THANK YOU FOR GIVING ME THE OPPORTUNITY.

Ted Simons: BEFORE WE GET INTO ALL OF THIS, TALK ABOUT AARP AND WHO WE'RE TALKING ABOUT.

Ritch Steven: WELL, A LOT OF PEOPLE DON'T REALIZE THAT AARP IS 40 MILLION MEMBERS, BUT THEY AREN'T ALL RETIRED. YOU HAVE TO BE 50 AND OLDER TO JOIN. SO ABOUT HALF OF OUR MEMBERS ARE 50 TO 64 AND HALF ARE ABOVE 65. SO WE HAVE A LOT OF WORKING MEMBERS WHO HAVE JOBS, WHO HAVE INSURANCE, WHO HAVE HEALTH COVERAGE ISSUES, AND WE ALSO HAVE MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE IN MEDICARE AND THEY HAVE A WHOLE SET OF OTHER ISSUES.

Ted Simons: LET'S TALK ABOUT SOME OF THOSE ISSUES. WE'LL START WITH HEALTH CARE REFORM. DOES AARP BELIEVE THAT HEALTH CARE REFORM IS NECESSARY?

Ritch Steven: WE HAVE BEEN VERY CONSISTENT IN OUR POLICY, IN OUR MESSAGE AND IN OUR WORK FOR YEARS, SAYING THAT HEALTH CARE REFORM IS A VITAL NECESSITY. WE MUST MAKE HEALTH CARE REFORM START NOW.

Ted Simons: WHAT NEEDS TO BE REFORMED?

Ritch Steven: WE'VE GOT A COUPLE OF THINGS. WE DO NOT ENDORSE ANY PIECES OF LEGISLATION THAT ARE CURRENTLY BEING DISCUSSED. WHAT WE DO IS WE ASK OUR MEMBERS, AS A MEMBER DRIVEN ORGANIZATION, WHAT'S IMPORTANT TO THEM. WHAT DO YOU WANT US TO ADVOCATE FOR ON YOUR BEHALF? WHAT DO YOU WANT US TO LOOK FOR IN LEGISLATION TO MAKE SURE THAT YOUR NEEDS ARE REPRESENTED? AGAIN, WE HAVE A VERY BROAD MEMBERSHIP. SO WE HAVE A COUPLE OF THINGS. WHAT WE'VE HEARD IS, THAT THEY WANT US TO SAY, LET ME BE FREE TO PICK THE DOCTOR I WANT AND WORK WITH THE DOCTOR AND MAKE SURE THAT MY NEEDS ARE MET. THEY WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY AREN'T DISCRIMINATED AGAINST BY INSURANCE COMPANIES. THEY DON'T WANT TO BE DISCRIMINATED FOR PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS. THEY DON'T WANT TO BE DISCRIMINATED AGAINST BECAUSE I'M OLDER AND HAVE TO PAY A WHOLE LOT MORE. THEY WANT THEIR DRUG COSTS BROUGHT UNDER CONTROL. MOST PEOPLE OVER THE AGE OF 50 START GETTING ON SOME FORM OF DRUGS AND THEY NEED THAT HELP.

Ted Simons: WITH THOSE PRIORITIES, I GUESS, IN PLACE, THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION HAS TALKED ABOUT PUBLIC OPTIONS. OBVIOUSLY THAT'S OFF THE TABLE NOW. FROM WHERE THE AARP SITS, A PUBLIC OPTION, IS IT VIABLE? IS IT SOMETHING AARP WOULD LOOK AT ASSIST OFFERING ALL OF THESE THINGS THE MEMBERS ARE LOOKING FOR?

Ritch Steven: WE HAVE NOT ENDORSED THE PUBLIC OPTION APPROACH, BUT WE HAVE NOT SAID NO TO THE PUBLIC OPTION APPROACH. WHAT WE HAVE SAID AND WHAT OUR RESEARCH HAS SAID IS WE WILL LOOK AT -- AND THERE ARE A VARIETY OF WAYS YOU CAN DEAL WITH THE ISSUES THAT PUBLIC OPTIONS WOULD PROVIDE -- WHAT WE'RE LOOKING FOR IS FOR THE INSURANCE COMPANIES TO BE ABLE TO GIVE US SOME DEGREE OF SECURITY IN THE INSURANCE THEY OFFER US AND CONTROL OF COSTS THAT WE EXPERIENCE.

Ted Simons: IS THAT SECURITY AND THAT CONTROL OF COST LACKING RIGHT NOW?

Ritch Steven: WE BELIEVE IT IS. WE BELIEVE IN A VARIETY OF AREAS IT IS NOT WORKING AS WELL AS INDEPENDENT SHOULD.

Ted Simons: SO WOULD THE ANSWER -- WORKING AS WELL AS IT SHOULD. SO WOULD THE ANSWER BE MORE OF A FEDERAL MARKET FOR THESE INSURANCE COMPANIES? THERE HAS TO BE A ROAD TRAVELED, DOESN'T THERE?

Ritch Steven: IT APPEARS THE GOVERNMENT COULD SET RULES KIND OF LIKE IN A FOOTBALL GAME. IT'S GOING TO SET WHAT ARE THE RULES OF THE GAME AND THEY CAN COME BACK AND THEY COULD TALK TO INSURANCE COMPANIES. THEY COULD TALK TO HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS. THEY COULD TALK TO CUSTOMERS, LIKE US, AND SAY, WE NEED TO CHANGE OUR BEHAVIORS OR WE NEED TO DO BUSINESS DIFFERENTLY, BUT WE CANNOT CONTINUE TO SPEND THE KIND OF MONEY WE'RE SPENDING IN THIS COUNTRY AND WATCH THAT NUMBER DOUBLE IN THE NEXT TEN YEARS. IT WOULD JUST BE VERY DETRIMENTAL TO TOO MANY THINGS THAT WE NEED TO DO.

Ted Simons: WE'RE HEARING BY WAY OF TOWN HALLS AND CRITICISM AND CONCERN REGARDING AT SOME POINT OF THE IDEAS OUT THERE RIGHT NOW, CONCERN THAT EMPLOYER-BASED INSURANCE WOULD ESSENTIALLY DISAPPEAR UNDER MANY OF THE OPTIONS OUT THERE RIGHT NOW. IS THAT A CONCERN OF AARP?

Ritch Steven: SOME OF OUR MEMBERS HAVE THAT CONCERN, BUT MOST OF OUR MEMBERS DO NOT HAVE THAT CONCERN.

Ted Simons: OKAY. ANOTHER CONCERN IS NO MORE MEDICARE AS WE KNOW IT IF SOME OF THESE PLANS ARE PUT INTO PLACE. IS THAT A CONCERN OF AARP?

Ritch Steven: THERE ARE A NUMBER OF FOLKS THAT HAVE BEEN QUOTED AS SAYING, I LOVE MY MEDICARE. DON'T TOUCH MY MEDICARE. I DON'T WANT A GOVERNMENT SYSTEM. AND IT'S KIND OF, YOU GO, WAIT A MINUTE. THERE ARE A NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO REALLY GET VERY CONFUSED OVER HOW CAN THEY SAY ON THE ONE HAND THEY'RE GOING TO TAKE $500 PLUS BILLION OUT OF THE COST OF MEDICARE AND NOT AFFECT MY BENEFITS? THE REALITY IS YOU CAN TAKE $500 BILLION OF COST AND NEVER TOUCH BENEFITS AND ACTUALLY MAKE THE SERVICES YOU RECEIVE UNDER MEDICARE BETTER FOR YOU AS A CUSTOMER.

Ted Simons: CONCERN AGAIN, WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT AND OTHER ASPECTS OF REFORM COULD LEAD TO RATIONING OF HEALTH CARE. AARP, WHERE IS IT STANDING ON THAT?

Ritch Steven: WE WOULD NOT SUPPORT RATIONING OF HEALTH CARE TO ANY OF OUR MEMBERS. NEVER HAVE, NEVER WILL. MEMBERS NEED TO RECEIVE WHATEVER HEALTH SERVICES THEY NEED THAT WILL ALLOW THEM TO MAINTAIN THEIR HEALTH IN AN OPTIMAL WAY.

Ted Simons: SENATOR McCAIN JUST HAD A TOWN HALL AND TALKED SOMETHING ALONG THE LINES OF A SENIORS HEALTH CARE BILL OF RIGHTS AND THE IDEA OF TAXES, CREDITS AND VOUCHERS AND THESE SORTS OF THINGS. FROM WHAT YOU'RE HEARING FROM MEMBERS, IS THAT A VIABLE OPTION OR, AGAIN, IS THAT SOMETHING THAT EVERYONE FROM ALL DIFFERENT AVENUES IS COMING AT FROM DIFFERENT WAYS?

Ritch Steven: I THINK THE LATTER IS PROBABLY TRUE. EVERYBODY IS COMING AT IT FROM A DIFFERENT WAY. WE HAVE LOOKED AT TAX CREDITS IN THE PAST, BUT ALL THOSE KINDS OF THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN PUT ON THE TABLE NEVER HAVE AMOUNTED TO A SERIOUS DENT IN THE COST OF ACQUIRING HEALTH INSURANCE. SO WE'VE NEVER REALLY ENDORSED THAT. IF THEY PUT THAT INTO CURRENT LEGISLATION AND ACTUALLY IT CAME OUT IN THE FORM OF A BILL, OBVIOUSLY WE WOULD LOOK AT IT.

Ted Simons: TORT REFORM. WHAT DO YOU THINK? WHAT DOES THE ORGANIZATION THINK?

Ritch Steven: TORT REFORM, WE BELIEVE THAT EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO SEEK GRIEVANCES THROUGH OUR LEGAL SYSTEMS, AND WE'VE BEEN VERY CONSISTENT IN THAT POSITION.

Ted Simons: AND DOES THAT POSITION NEED TO BE REFORMED IN TERMS OF WHAT EXISTS RIGHT NOW?

Ritch Steven: AT THIS POINT WE HAVE NOT TAKEN A POLICY THAT WE THINK IT NEEDS SIGNIFICANT REFORM.

Ted Simons: IT SOUNDS LIKE OBVIOUSLY YOU'RE BEING CAREFUL HERE BECAUSE YOU'RE REPRESENTING AN ORGANIZATION WITH A HUGE MEMBERSHIP. CONSIDERING THAT AND ALL THESE OPTIONS ON THE TABLE AND NOT ENDORSING ANY ONE OF THESE OPTIONS, IS AARP ALMOST AT THE POINT WHERE YOU'RE LOSING SOME RELEVANCE BY NOT COMING OUT AND SAYING, THAT'S THE WAY WE NEED TO GO?

Ritch Steven: WELL, I THINK THIS IS A VERY CONFUSING ISSUE AND IT'S BEING INTRODUCED IN A VERY CONFUSING WAY. WHEN YOU HAVE 40 MILLION MEMBERS, NOT EVERYBODY IS GOING TO AGREE. THERE ARE TWO CRITERIAS FOR AARP MEMBERSHIP. 50 PLUS AND $16.50. SO YOU GET PEOPLE WHO JOIN AARP FOR A VARIETY OF REASONS. WE'VE LOST A FEW MEMBERS, VERY FEW MEMBERS OVER THIS ISSUE THAT SAY, I DON'T SUPPORT WHERE THE ORGANIZATION IS ON IT. BUT AT THE SAME TIME, WHILE I KNOW THE NEWS MEDIA SAID WE LOST 60,000 MEMBERS, WE GAINED 400,000 DURING THE SAME PERIOD WHO JOINED US. IT'S AN EBB AND FLOW ISSUE AND WE WORK VERY HARD AS AN ORGANIZATION TO COMMUNICATE WITH OUR MEMBERS THROUGH THE WRITTEN WORD, THE E-MAILS, AARP.ORG. WE REALLY WORK TO LISTEN TO THEM AND TO TALK TO THEM.

Ted Simons: LAST QUESTION VERY QUICKLY. OF THOSE WHO SAID, I'M OUT OF HERE, I DISAGREE WITH THE ORGANIZATION. WHAT'S THEIR BIGGEST CONCERN?

Ritch Steven: USUALLY THEY THINK WE'RE TRYING TO ENDORSE A SOCIALIZED SYSTEM. INTERESTINGLY ENOUGH WHAT WE FIND OUT IS USUALLY ABOUT THREE TO SIX MONTHS LATER ABOUT HALF THE PEOPLE THAT RESIGNED CALL US UP AND SAY, WHY AM I NOT GETTING THE MAGAZINE OR WHY CAN'T I GET MY AUTO INSURANCE? WE DO HAVE TO SAY, WELL, YOU DO GET THE WHOLE PACKAGE FOR 16.50. YOU DON'T JUST GET TO PICK AND CHOOSE.

Ted Simons: THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

Ritch Steven: THANK YOU, MY PLEASURE.

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