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Members Lash Out at AARP’s Support for Health Plans

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Angry members of the American Assn. of Retired Persons flooded the organization’s switchboards across the country Thursday, ranting against its endorsement of health care reform measures advocated by the Senate and House majority leaders.

“They’re all very emotionally upset, but they’re all saying the same words,” said John Warner, a spokesman for the AARP who fielded calls in the Long Beach office Thursday. “They say: ‘I haven’t been polled and you can’t represent me.’ I wonder if they’re reading something.”

The calls began Wednesday, shortly after the AARP’s board of directors announced its support of the health care reform bills proposed by House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) and Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.). By 3 p.m. PDT Thursday, the Long Beach office alone had received more than 175 calls.

The endorsement of the Mitchell and Gephardt plans by the huge senior citizens group was seen as a major boost for the two proposals. It was the first time that the group had thrown its weight behind any health care reform plan.

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Most callers said they were upset that the organization’s board had endorsed the two plans without surveying its 33 million members.

“It’s just being ramrodded down our throats. I’ve never been as riled up,” said Lucette Worrel, 69, of Bay St. Louis, Miss., an AARP member for about seven years.

“I don’t want my insurance to change,” Worrel said. “Maybe that’s selfish but, damn it, I feel I have earned the right to be selfish.”

AARP spokesman Peter Ashkenaz said the organization’s Washington headquarters had received hundreds of calls, virtually all from angry members.

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The protests, however, seemed unlikely to change the board’s firmly held position. Board President Eugene Lehrmann said Wednesday that “if either bill is defeated, health care reform will be dead for years to come.”

Warner, whose office handles AARP activities in four states, said answering the calls was frustrating because callers were “too emotionally upset to engage in logical conversations.”

“When you’ve got 33 million people there’s going to be somebody upset no matter what you do,” he said. “Those who call in are usually the people who are against something.”


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