08/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

AARP: Results, Not Rhetoric

In a recent posting, Martha Burk makes the bizarre assertion that AARP would support a policy of age discrimination in health insurance premiums.

The reality, of course, is that AARP is a leading national voice against age discrimination in all of its forms. We pursue this effort through age discrimination lawsuits, political advocacy at the state and national levels, and member education. We recently asked Congress to pass legislation that would reverse the injustice of the Supreme Court ruling in Gross v. FBL Financial Services, which sets an unacceptably high burden of proof for older workers who bring age discrimination lawsuits.

AARP has long led the battle to eliminate age and health status as factors in health insurance premiums.

Ms. Burk apparently reached her misleading conclusion because AARP did not insist on a complete ban on "age rating" health insurance premiums -- the insurance industry practice of charging older people more than younger people. She further warned that people ages 50-64 will pay a price "if age rating goes into effect."

This is another mischaracterization. The unfortunate reality is that age rating already is in effect, and AARP has opposed it for many years. Insurance companies typically charge older beneficiaries in the individual market up to five times or even more as much as they charge
young people. Thirty-three states have no upper limit, and another 13 permit age rating variations of more than 2-1.

It is easy to criticize AARP for not taking an absolutist position on age rating in the current health care debate. Too easy.

We have a responsibility to pursue advocacy aims that can have a constructive impact. An enterprise as complex and explosive as health reform has no chance of passage unless all sides show some flexibility and a willingness to keep their eye on the big picture.

In 2009, our focus is on eliminating as much age rating as possible, while also keeping health care affordable -- and achieving these goals without imposing significantly higher premiums on the young.

We believe it will be much better for our country to secure passage of health reform legislation that moves significantly in the right direction than for the process to break down in gridlock as it has before over absolutist demands.

In the short term, we seek to make decent health care affordable for as many people as possible, to make desperately needed investments in the infrastructure of health care and to implement overdue innovations that can improve quality and health.

But we recognize that much work will be required to build on this legislation over time. AARP will continue to work with a wide range of organizations, including the Older Women's League, patient advocacy groups and many others to pursue important reforms.

In this long-term effort, keeping health care affordable for all and eliminating age rating altogether will remain a priority goal.