AARP stands on issues, speakers tell GJ audience

As one of the nation’s largest senior groups, AARP routinely takes stances on issues important to the elderly, such as health care, retirement programs and consumer prices.

So when the advocacy group backs parts of a controversial health care plan approved by Congress or a state legislature, that doesn’t mean they favor one political party over another, officials and volunteers of the group told a handful of Grand Junction residents Tuesday in response to questions about their political leanings.

Far from it, said Kelli Fritts, senior lobbyist for the Colorado branch of the group.

Several years ago, the group supported GOP President George W. Bush’s changes on prescription drugs benefits under Medicare, she said.

“A lot of people really got mad at us and said, ‘Hey, you’re totally affiliated with the Republican Party,’” Fritts said. “We supported the law because it was a huge step forward for our members to get prescription drug coverage. It’s the issue. We’ve always tried to go with the issue and certain parties sometimes champion that issue. We’re never, ever partisan.”

The group that claims to have more than 37 million members nationwide has been criticized nationally the past few years for its support of parts of the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The group’s main concerns are impacts to Medicare and Social Security, two federal programs that virtually all of its members use, and the act impacts both.

Tuesday’s visit to the Grand Valley was primarily to highlight longstanding problems with both programs, including predictions that Social Security will become insolvent by 2032.

A.W. Schnellbacher, a volunteer lobbyist for the group who also sits on its executive council, urged local seniors to help by asking questions of all political candidates about the issue, regardless of party affiliation.

He said the group isn’t pushing planned fixes to Social Security and their potential impacts on Medicare by President Barack Obama or his GOP rival, Mitt Romney.

“We believe that the fixes for both of these programs are not that big, but we need to have an open and honest debate about it,” Schnellbacher said. “We need to ask some questions. We need to have our membership — it doesn’t matter what your party affiliation is — we want you out there asking questions of the candidates for public office.”

The AARP volunteers directed seniors to a program the group has started called You’ve Earned a Say. It is designed to spark a national debate and spur senior voters to be involved in finding a fix that works.

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