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Blog: Lawmaker courts AARP hoping for reversal on reform stance

Do you catch more advocacy groups with honey than vinegar?

One House Republican is trying to win over a key supporter of the federal healthcare law.

The AARP's support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was seen as a politically critical step in mollifying seniors' concerns about the legislation. Since the law's enactment, the group's support has served as a continuing bulwark against Republican charges that the law will undermine Medicare. And as Medicare has risen to prominence in the presidential campaign with the Republican vice presidential nomination of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the advocacy group for older Americans has again moved to political fore.“The President's health care reform, as he said yesterday, affectionately known as Obamacare, has been judged by not just him, not just Democrats, by AARP, an organization looked to by seniors for this kind of analysis, as having strengthened and protected Medicare—strengthened Medicare and protected Medicare beneficiaries,” Obama press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at an Aug. 30 briefing. “AARP also judged that the Republican proposal, the one that turns Medicare into a voucher system, undermines Medicare.”

That same day, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) issued his latest letter (PDF) to the group urging it to rethink the law and come out against one of its most controversial provisions: the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

Roe's letter is his second attempt to win AARP's support for his efforts to repeal the IPAB, which will have authority to begin cutting Medicare growth that exceeds a predetermined limit in 2015. The as-yet appointed panel has drawn fierce provider opposition because many of its cuts are expected to come from Medicare's payments to them.

The letters are a markedly different approach than that taken by other Republicans, who have launched investigations of the AARP following its critical role during the 2009-2010 debate over the healthcare legislation.

So far, AARP has downplayed the panel's risks for seniors because the law bars the IPAB from directly cutting benefits or hiking beneficiaries' costs. The physician-legislator's latest response sought to illustrate ultimate beneficiary impacts through a point that might sound familiar to many provider groups.

“As the statute does not prohibit cutting payments to physicians and other medical providers, this seems like a likely path for the board to achieve savings,” Roe wrote to Barry Rand, CEO of AARP, about the means through which the board would ultimately undermine beneficiaries' care.

Time will tell if AARP eventually buys what Roe and providers are selling.

You can follow Rich Daly on Twitter @MHRDaly.
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