Seay, a Kingsport resident and volunteer leader of the statewide organization representing seniors’ interests, said AARP has become a victim of the furor over the health care overhaul being debated by Congress.
“We hope they’ll come back,” she said of the lost members. “I think the main thing I hope will happen in this confusion over health care is there will be good discussion. And there will be bipartisan action. ... I encourage everyone to keep asking questions.”
One Associated Press report placed the number of lost AARP members since July 1 at 60,000, although Seay didn’t have an estimate of how many AARP Tennessee members have left.
The same report also noted AARP gained about 400,000 new members during the same period and that 1.5 million members renewed their membership.
AARP has more than 27,000 Kingsport area members, Seay said.
The local AARP chapter will hold a discussion on health care reform Tuesday at the Kingsport Senior Center cafeteria from 2 to 3 p.m.
Much of the health care reform misinformation hurting AARP, Seay said, has gone out over the Internet.
“People are concerned they are going to lose their choice of doctors,” she noted. “They are concerned there is going to be a so-called death squad that is going to make their health decisions for them. ... That’s not the case. ... AARP has lost members over this because a lot of people thought we weren’t speaking for the 50-plus population when in reality we are. There’s a lot of fear of the process, and people are concerned what’s going to happen.
“They are afraid they are going to lose their benefits or their health care is going to change in some way.”
But Seay pointed out AARP has not endorsed the House or Senate legislative version of health care reform, including the so-called “public option,” a proposed government-run health insurance exchange.
“I think a lot of people thought AARP, including President (Barack) Obama, had endorsed health care reform bills that are now before the House and Senate committees, but we haven’t endorsed any bill as of now,” Seay said. “We are for health care reform. ... We feel the health care system as it is makes too many mistakes, costs too much money, and a lot of people are either over-served or underserved. So we feel this is the time for health care reform.”
Part of AARP’s perception problem might be attributed to a “tele-town hall” conference call the organization did with Obama on July 28.
During that event, Obama made a pitch for the public option, in addition to a private health insurance exchange.
“The public option we do not have a position on,” Seay pointed out. “We are definitely against a single-payer or socialized medicine. ... That would be like systems in Canada or England. We like people to have the choice of what doctors they go to. And that’s what people, when I talk to them, they say to me ‘We need health care reform.’ ... (But) there is so much confusion on what is being included in health care reform.
“There’s such partisan action on both sides of the aisle (of Congress). ... We believe that if health care reform doesn’t take place now, it will be several more generations before it does.”
AARP Tennessee recently held a tele-town hall conference call with U.S. Rep. John Tanner, a conservative or “Blue Dog” Democrat representing a West Tennessee congressional district, and plans to hold calls with two other Tennessee Blue Dogs — U.S. Reps. Bart Gordon and Lincoln Davis.
Seay said the organization also hopes to stage a similar call with U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st District, who is opposed to the health care reform legislation now in Congress and is currently holding town hall meetings on the subject.
In the final reform plan, Seay said AARP would like to see people able to get health insurance despite having a pre-existing condition.
“AARP is also really behind streamlining Medicare (the federal health care plan for seniors),” she added. “We feel money should be saved in Medicare and Medicaid (the federal health care program for the poor and uninsured). We are working to close the doughnut hole (out-of-pocket expense in the Medicare drug plan). We want pharmaceuticals to not cost our seniors so much money. ... Not only are they paying for drugs, they are paying for their (Medicare) premium. So it’s a double whammy. ... They are having to choose between having to pay for their prescriptions or food.”
For more about AARP Tennessee, go to www.aarp.org/TN.