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Media Statements

Jim Parkel
President, AARP
National Coalition on Health Care
Press Event
National Press Club
May 19, 2003, 10:00 a.m.

A little over a year and a half ago the National Coalition on Health Care warned of the “perfect storm” that had formed in America’s heath care system. Since then conditions have worsened. Across the board—whether you talk about costs, coverage or quality—the strain is testing our limits.

Let’s focus on coverage.

AARP has 35 million members. Half are between the ages of 50 and 64. That’s a vulnerable segment of the population when it comes to health insurance.

In 2001, 41 million people lacked health insurance. Almost 6 million were aged 50 to 64. Those numbers are almost certain to be higher today. The vast majority of the uninsured are employed, by the way.

As a businessman, and one whose background is in human resources, I know the pressures employers are operating under in today’s economy. In the face of steeply rising costs, many are forced to cut back on benefits or shift more costs to workers. Small employers, in many cases, have been forced to drop coverage altogether. At the same time, more and more employers are eliminating retiree benefits. All of this falls especially hard on 50- to 64-year-olds.

If you’ve ever had to shop for individual coverage, you know what a tough drill that is.

Premiums are high for everybody, but because policies are age-rated, people between the ages of 50 and 64 will end up paying two to four times what younger people pay. That puts insurance out of the reach of many.

Then there are those who could afford an individual policy but who have pre-existing conditions that would be excluded from coverage. If you have a history of heart trouble, say, or diabetes or cancer, it is virtually impossible to get the coverage you really need.

And the way Medicare’s set up, you aren’t eligible until you’re 65, even if your spouse is covered. As a result many so-called “Medicare spouses” lack coverage.

Our surveys among the 50-64 population indicate that the costs of health care and lack of coverage are among this age group’s top concerns.

As for Americans aged 65-plus, the lack of a Medicare prescription drug benefit is causing real hardship for far too many. Let me just say that helping Congress enact Medicare prescription drug coverage has been something of a “preoccupation” for AARP. It’s about time we all gathered for a Rose Garden ceremony on Medicare prescription drugs. Then we can turn our full attention to the interrelated problems of cost, coverage and quality that are keeping America’s health care system from living up to its true promise. Which is, of course, to be the best in the world.

AARP is proud to be a member of the National Coalition on Health Care. We say in our ads that if one person could do it alone, the world wouldn’t need AARP. Our 35 million members give us the power to make it better. But we don’t stand alone either, and we know it. The only way we can succeed is if all of us who are concerned about the state of health care in America combine our collective power and work together. AARP is committed to that.

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