AARP’s white-haired “strike force,” as the organization calls them, is on the offensive like never before — bashing big business with a righteous indignation that could surprise activists decades younger and positioning AARP as the drug industry’s primary opponent.
“I can’t really think of another time when there’s been this strong a message in opposition to an entire industry,” said John Rother, the group’s former head of policy and the current CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care.
As Max Richtman, head of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, put it, “PhRMA is an 800-pound gorilla. And I think they’re meeting another 800-pound gorilla in AARP.”
Positioning itself as pharma’s main antagonist, however, has opened up the group to a new line of attack from PhRMA, the drug industry’s lobbying arm, which has launched something of a counter-offensive campaign. Its ads zoom in on the roughly $600 million AARP rakes in each year from selling private Medicare Advantage and Medicare supplement insurance plans to its members. That hefty sum, PhRMA says, raises serious questions about the motivation behind AARP’s push.
“In many respects, AARP is an insurance company that is masquerading as a seniors advocacy organization,” said Robert Zirkelbach, executive vice president of public affairs at PhRMA. “AARP has significantly increased their involvement in the drug pricing debate, and we think it’s important to point out what might be motivating their perspective.”