My Turn: Seniors see attack on services from an unexpected source

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2003

Getting old ain't for sissies." Various seniors tell me this with increasing frequency. Once, Alaska seniors and elders were revered for their contributions to this state. There were entitlements to Pioneers Home care, the Longevity Bonus and tax exemptions. But - as with the Permanent Fund dividend - the greed and arrogance of lawyers, legislators and others representing special interests have struck down entitlements.

They have succeeded and probably will succeed further until any special recognition for the senior will be totally nonexistent. As the state and federal governments cut funding and aid to cities, any tax exemptions or reductions will diminish and disappear. The season is open on the "old" and the attacks on the elderly are vicious.

Recent headlines and topics in both print and electronic media underscore this reality. The Nov. 21 Juneau Empire tells how "Bank mailings target seniors," as a powerful national bank attempts to capitalize on the further diminishment of status and resources suffered by Alaska's seniors and elders who have lost their Longevity Bonus. The target is the equity that older Alaskans have in their homes. The vehicle is the "reverse" mortgage which erodes that equity as the owners age and try to subsist.

The AARP has sponsored seminars to inform seniors about reverse mortgages. One would say, "Great! One for our side!" But not so fast. This weekend I watched the congressional Medicare debates on television. I saw the health care safety net for both seniors and other less financially fortunate attacked by those who would philosophically, personally and corporately benefit by the eventual dismantling of a Medicare system under a smokescreen of supporting a Medicare prescription drug provision. Not only do the politicians and corporate America slash away at the status of seniors, but in this Medicare debate has emerged a totally unexpected enemy: the AARP, which has actively supported the legislation that would diminish Medicare. Through news reports and television advertisements financed by income from trusting members AARP is supporting this legislation that debilitates the only sure health care system seniors can depend on.

Why becomes more understandable after reading the "AARP Membership Benefits Handbook" section on the array of health insurance services services, including pharmacy services, that AARP offers. The AARP is in the medical insurance business. They can influence the outcome of health care legislation because, as the handbook further explains, "In Washington, D.C., we are a strong, effective force that works with Congress, the administration and federal agencies for equitable public policies on critical issues that affect the economic, health and social well-being of our members and families."

Unfortunately, in supporting the proposed Medicare legislation, AARP missed the mark on helping their members. Of direct impact on Alaska retirees, threatening current Medicare benefits allows for attacks on all retired employee medical plans since the sponsoring ex-employer may have the option to diminish benefits or opt out. Further, those persons across Alaska who have worked for state government will eventually see the medical care benefits they earned over 20-30 years of employment disappear bit by bit. So, who can a senior trust? What to do? Along with trying not to be a sissy, I say to seniors, "Watch your back!"

• Jerry Madden is a 32-year resident of Juneau and a retired state employee.

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