AARP Faces Backlash From Seniors Over Health Care Reform Stance

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Published August 10, 2009

| FoxNews.com

Elected officials aren't the only ones facing frustrated, angry crowds at health care town hall meetings. 

The senior advocacy group AARP is now coming under criticism from its own members for appearing to support President Obama's health care reform plans. 

The internal debate is heating up as lawmakers prepare to enter what could be the final stretch in writing legislation, with just one committee left to vote on it. 

But just as constituents are giving their elected representatives a piece of their mind over the August recess, some seniors are starting to protest the AARP. 

Last week, AARP officials speaking at a forum in Dallas walked out after several seniors interrupted the meeting with critical questions and comments. 

Some AARP members say they are so outraged that they've taken to tearing up their membership cards and firing off heated letters to the organization's CEO. 

Recent polling by FOX News shows seniors, many of whom are on Medicare, don't want a major overhaul -- 93 percent rate their current coverage as good or excellent, and 56 percent say they oppose the creation of a government-run option for all Americans.

Other groups representing seniors say they aren't surprised by the recent backlash. 

"We get letters every single day from people that are very upset about this bill and about the AARP supporting it," said Stuart Barton, president of the American Seniors Association. "So I don't blame them for coming back and saying they are going to tear up their AARP cards." 

The AARP hosted a discussion with Obama last month on health care. But officials say the group is nonpartisan and has not endorsed any specific legislative measure. 

They concede, however, that there are some provisions in the legislation that the organization has backed. 

AARP spokesman Jim Dau said the group is working with the administration as well as congressional leaders in both parties. 

"We're working with other groups including employers, small business owners, organized labor," he added. 

AARP officials say the organization is used to being attacked, by both conservatives and liberals, and wears the bipartisan criticism as a badge of honor. 

Critics don't buy that. 

"The AARP speaks out of both sides of their mouth and tells their constituents or their members one thing and do another," Barton said. 

Despite the internal tension, the AARP will continue to hold town halls. 

And they are making the same plea for civility that elected officials are making as they host forums throughout the August recess. 

"It's really important to ratchet down the tension, make sure that you are getting a debate based on the actual facts, not the myths, not based on the things that some folks want you to believe," Dau said.

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