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Remarks at the 2013 AARP-UN Briefing Series on Global Aging

By: Rob Romasco

Publish Date: February  14,  2013


 Rob Romasco
President,
AARP

AARP-UN Briefing Series on Global Aging
United Nations    February 8, 2013

I’m president of AARP, which means I serve as Chief Volunteer Spokesperson and a member of our all-volunteer Board of Directors.

I’m here to underscore AARP’s desire to strengthen our ties to organizations around the world that share our commitment to a better life for all as we age. 

From the earliest days, AARP has been about the pursuit of health and financial security --- and a vibrant life – for each of us, through all life’s stages.

Let me begin with the story of AARP’s beginning.

AARP’s founder was a retired high school principal named Ethel Percy Andrus. She was a pioneer and an entrepreneur.

In 1947, she retired to care for her aging Mother.

One day, Dr. Andrus went to visit a former teacher who needed help. 

She found her living in a dismal chicken coop…..the only thing the teacher could afford after her medical costs.

In 1947, there was no Medicare coverage to help care for the health needs and expenses of people age 65 and over. The teacher was on her own.

The visit to the chicken coop spurred Dr. Andrus to launch a campaign to get health insurance for retired teachers.

Forty-two insurance companies rejected her. Company number 43 said yes. She launched a successful program for New York’s retired teachers, and it spread across the country.

Soon, thousands of seniors, not just teachers, wanted health insurance.

So, in 1958, at age 73, Dr. Andrus formed AARP. Today we are more than 37 million members strong, with offices in all 50 states.

Dr. Andrus envisioned a society in which AARP helps “all Americans live with dignity and purpose.”

She was a strong advocate for staying active and for engaging with life rather than retreating from it.

We strive to live by her model each and every day.

Each of us here today is aware that longevity is shaping the future of the world.  

By 2050, older people will outnumber children for the first time in history.

 In the U.S., 10,000 of us turn 65 every day. This continues for the next 18 years!

The aging of the world’s population is the transformational issue of our time, with tremendous implications for countries throughout the world.

This “longevity economy” is new ground…..where we have never been in history. 

Although so much is changing, as people get older, they share many of the same wants and needs, regardless of where they live. 

They want health and financial security. 

They want options for living their lives.

In the U.S., Social Security and Medicare are the foundation of financial and health security in retirement.

That’s why AARP has been working tirelessly with its members to keep these programs on solid ground.

Both Medicare and Social Security face a number of challenges in the coming years:

--The number of people receiving Social Security benefits will increase from 57 million today to nearly 92 million in 2036;

--The number of Medicare beneficiaries will double to 80 million people by 2030;

--We will have fewer workers paying into the system to support a larger number of beneficiaries;

--Health costs are soaring, partly because of:

…increasing prices for prescription drugs;

…the use of new, expensive technology; and

…inefficient, uncoordinated care. 

 

The financial stakes are high:

--More than 30% of Social Security recipients are totally dependent on a Social Security check;

--and 65% are mostly dependent;

--More than one in three working households age 21 to 64 has no individual savings set aside for retirement.

It’s not surprising that half of voters age 50-64 don’t think they will ever be able to retire.

This pessimism reminds us just how vital Social Security and Medicare are going to be for generations to come.

 

This past year, AARP took the conversation about the future of Social Security and Medicare out from behind closed doors in the nation’s capital, straight to the people who’ve paid into these programs throughout their working lives.

Through our initiative called “You’ve Earned A Say,” we engaged 6.5 million Americans in a national conversation about the future of Medicare and Social Security.

Our state offices held 4,300 listening sessions and in- person events, with nearly 900 targeted to multicultural audiences;

We held town hall meetings, visited State Fairs, conducted tele-town-halls, sent masses of emails, and provided online tools to help inform people about ideas being debated in Washington;

We collected more than 3 million questionnaires, letting us know where members stood on Medicare and Social Security, and then we made sure their voices were heard in Washington, DC;

Our state offices generated 2,500 media stories.

To manage this large-scale initiative, we relied upon hundreds of external partnerships, thousands of volunteers who took the conversation to their communities, and collaboration across the entire AARP association.

The conversation about changes in Social Security and Medicare continues, and you can be sure that AARP and its members are part of it.

On other fronts, AARP is working at all levels of society to fulfill the potential of older Americans, reaping the benefits of their maturity, experience, and expertise.

---In the marketplace: We work with employers to raise awareness of the benefits of attracting and retaining older workers, and of their unique contributions.

--In public policy: We fought for a federal law that protects individuals from age discrimination in employment, and we continue to fight in Congress and the courts to keep that law strong. 

 

--With individuals: We work to build individuals’ capacity to preserve their own health and vitality;

  • to embrace and engage with life at all ages;
  • to build skills for the new marketplace;
  • to connect with resources to launch a business or re-imagine a career….

We work to be a resource for those who are caring for aging or ill family members….

… And to be a trusted source of information, activities, and tools to help them enjoy and enrich their lives.

AARP is a successful advocacy organization because we listen to our members and represent their interests. We constantly seek input on public policy issues from many sources. 

We field tens of thousands of calls and letters from our members. We survey our membership and the general public on a broad range of issues, by telephone, mail, or in-person interview.

In addition to the input from members, AARP staff professionals conduct research and policy studies on current issues. They analyze the impact of new legislation and examine proposed federal and state bills to see if they are consistent with AARP policy and the larger public interest.

When our analysis shows that a proposed policy is fair and would be effective, we inform our members.  And when our analysis shows that a proposed policy would place undue burdens on older Americans and people as they age, or would not solve the problem, we also let our members know. 

This vital educational function is carried out with the help of a vast network of volunteers.

We make sure our members’ voices are heard in Washington, DC, or in state capitals across the country. 

To make sure our members’ voices are heard in Washington, DC or in state capitals, we also have professional lobbyists on our staff.  They are expert technicians who are capable of explaining the complex subjects we deal with, in terms that help legislators understand how their decisions will affect our members.

If we are to reach our vision of building a society where everyone has the opportunity and right to age with financial and health security, and to live with independence, dignity and purpose, we need to use every resource available.

This isn’t just the government’s job, or the private sector’s job, or the individual’s job. It’s a multi-front, cross-cutting responsibility.

Everyone needs to be involved!

Thank you so much.