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AARP Quest for Health Care 'Leverage' Doesn't Bother New York Times

     Even when its actions “create a tremendous number of potential conflicts,” The New York Times treats AARP with respect and softens any criticism by consulting only the group’s friends.

     AARP announced it will start offering health insurance to people 50 to 64 sometime next year. When that happens, AARP will “be the largest provider of private insurance to Medicare recipients,” the Times wrote on April 17. But the left-wing AARP will continue being the nation’s largest senior lobbying group – creating an obvious conflict about what it lobbies for. But the Times didn’t look very hard at that conflict.

     The Times quoted just four people in its 700-word article – two executives at AARP and liberal Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), who earned a 95-percent rating from Americans for Democratic Action in 2006. The last was Judith A. Stein, director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, which reporter Robert Pear described as “a nonprofit group that counsels people on Medicare.”

     Stark, who chairs the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health, was enthusiastic, saying “they could be a wonderful addition.” Stein raised the possibility of conflict in cautious terms, but that’s what happens when reporters try to get criticism from an organization’s allies. “Ms. Stein and her organization work closely with AARP,” Pear explained deep into the story.

     That might explain her measured approach to critique. “AARP will not be perceived as a truly independent advocate on Medicare if it’s making hefty profits by selling insurance products that provide Medicare coverage,” she reportedly said.

     AARP certainly isn’t downplaying the huge power it will have. “The group said also it would use its leverage to reshape the health insurance market,” said Pear.

     The story also treated AARP as the only game in town or “the lobby for older Americans.” Conservatives at the United Seniors Association would probably disagree.