Archive for October, 2009

AARP Under Scrutiny for Dual Roles

October 27, 2009

The largest political interest group in America has also been one of the strongest proponents for health care reform, but more recently their role in the debate has come under heavy scrutiny from congressional republicans.
Formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, AARP has long been seen as the umbrella of protection over some of America’s most vulnerable citizens. Notoriously trusting and not always aware of the dangers of technology, AARP lobbies for seniors and retired persons, and members often receive discounts from private service providers based on agreements with the powerful group.
Their interest in health care reform is easy to explain on its face. Older persons require frequent medical care, and especially end of life services are the most costly of all health care expenses. But it’s recently been discovered that the Association holds other stakes in the health care reform before congress.
According to The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, lawmakers are at issue with a number of “medigap” plans bearing the AARP name. “Medigap” refers to a plan which provides additional coverage on top of government Medicare or Medicaid.
Reccomendations and plans from congress to slash competing programs could result in a huge leap in the purchasing of AARP supplemental plans.
Furthering the concern is AARP’s status as a non-insurance firm. This means that new laws regarding earnings caps for insurance providers (and their top executives) would not be applicable to AARP and its figureheads.
AARP spokespeople have argued that any profitable gains from their various AARP-brand credit cards, supplemental health care plans, etc. allow the group to further their service with lobbying and other consumer advocacy functions.
This represents a huge problem both ethical and functional that can be difficult to see. AARP frames itself publicly as having no bias, or only a bias towards the consumers for whom they advocate. Yet we begin to see that they have many business interests by which most normal people’s best faculties could, and have been, overcome.
There are a lot of nice ways to say it, but the fact is senior citizens are some of the most taken advantage of in our country. Defrauders abound and the internet has made it all too easy. It’s deplorable that an organization like AARP, which purports to advocate for retired persons and seniors, should be perceived even momentarily as a threat to defraud them further.
AARP should take every necessary step towards immediate transparency if there’s any truth to the statements of their spokespeople. They need to identify concrete reasons why, if it is indeed true, the plans that seem to benefit them financially are also those that provide the best services to the people they represent. Otherwise an association with a generally stellar reputation for honesty and service could be tainted with scandal and greed.


Free Health Care:Less Complex Than We’ve Made It?

October 13, 2009

Wise County, VA is an interesting place. Although seldom heard of both in and out of the state, it boasts the largest population in the state outside of any metropolitan area. Located in the Appalachian Plateau region of the state, There is a University of VA campus for both undergrad and graduate, and its advanced systems for backing up data allows the county to bill itself as “the safest place on earth” for businesses and others who store data in mass quantities.

All of these things are little points of interest you’d find in any county. One thing Wise has that no other county can boast: free health care for the uninsured and underinsured.

Every year hundreds of doctors, nurses and other trained professionals come to the southwestern area in Virginia to provide free care in a makeshift field hospital run by Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps. For 3 days of the year, long lines form and people come from around the country for a chance to be healed free of the skyrocketing charges of modern medicine.

The Washington Post has put together a series of multimedia on the RAMVC’s yearly project. In the series particpants called the 3-day event “a gift from god.” There are even volunteers available to stand in the long lines for those whose health has crippled their ability to wait for themselves.

What makes this possible? Why don’t we have one of these in every state? In every county? It may only be three days of care, but as those who attend will tell you, it’s certainly better than zero.

The answer is the star of a popular 70’s and 80’s television series, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Stan Brock, the former snake-wrestling TV star is the financial and literal figurehead for the RAMVC. Every year he is shocked by the turnout, not its quantity, but the ailments people come with. Brain tumors, other cancers are typical for the 800-some professionals at the event.

The cost is not incredibly high at $26,000. The professionals who participate purport that they are satisfied with their regular salaries and provide their services free of charge to Brock’s group.

Brock realizes that his 3-day event though significant in its originality, is a band-aid over a massive wound. He draws inspiration for a Medical Volunteer Corps before his television days in South Africa. After watching a series of very treatable diseases devastate native populations with no resistance before beginning the show in 1968, Brock vowed he’d return with a volunteer medical corps to help these people.

Costwise, the event is nearly free when you consider that most organ translplants cost about 4 times as much. Some would say the only key is Brock and a few good-hearted doctors. If only 49 or so more of us could learn what Brock has “we could fix this problem,”says Brock, “It’s just a question of priority.”

Ad-Watch: Evaluation or Free Screening?

October 6, 2009

Since June, The Washington Post has been updating a section of its Web site showing about 30 different national TV advertisements regarding healthcare reform.
We have discussed this type of reporting before. Although here The Post has incorporated a multimedia element, the idea is much the same. Ad-watch journalism as it’s sometimes called is a useful tool to help consumers flesh out details from the barrage of information being given to them in political ads. Who paid? How much? What’s it about? Who is it aimed at?
The idea is not to simply give the ads more exposure and run time, especially not for free. With this in mind, it seems The Post could be digging at bit deeper. After being completely astounded once again by the amount of information that can be compiled about any one thing using computers by the NYT’s Series on Water Pollution, it seems The Post could divulge much more about the ads, rather than simply screen them with a few taglines underneath.
Political scientist Bruce A. Williams developed a four-part test for evaluating political information of which The Post’s series seemed to skip a part or two. The four parts are transparency, pluralism, versimilitude, and practice.
The Post series contains the following information for each video: The organization that funded the ad, the ad’s debut date, a ballpark figure for cost (some as vague as “seven figures”) and about 60 words on content.
Clearly this information does not quite hold up to Williams’ test, which as an ideal informant of the public a large newspaper outlet would have the sense to help them along with, the test being indeed a complicated process. I think TWP could stand to do a little more reporting and possibly interpreting for their audience and a little less re-screening of political mud-slinging and partisan ads.