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AARP: Prescription coverage, opposition to Social Security privatization focus of 2002 campaign

Extending prescription coverage for Medicare recipients and protecting Social Security from being privatized are the main goals of AARP in the 2002 congressional campaign, state AARP officials said during a forum Wednesday in Kingman.

AARP was formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons.

However, AARP officials acknowledged that extending the prescription benefit may be difficult in the current political environment because of the likelihood of war against Iraq and opposition from drug companies.

And while they agree that Social Security can be "tweaked" to cut costs by lowering cost-of-living increases or raising the retirement age, they oppose privatizing the program by investing Social Security income in the stock market.

Lupe Solis, Don Vance and Richard M.

Morse of the AARP office in Phoenix addressed those issues in a two-hour forum Wednesday that drew 15 people to the Kathryn Heidenreich Adult Center.

Solis, associate state director for advocacy for AARP, said none of the candidates for District 2 in the U.S.

House of Representatives attended the forum because of scheduling conflicts.

Republican Trent Franks of Glendale, Democrat Randy Camacho of Goodyear and Libertarian Edward Carlson are vying in the Nov.

5 general election for the newly reapportioned seat, which covers all of Mohave County and portions of five other counties.

Solis asked how many in attendance have supplemental Medicare coverage, known as Medigap.

Only five raised their hands.

Thousands of Kingman-area Medicare recipients had prescription coverage as subscribers to the health maintenance organization provided by Premier Healthcare of Arizona.

However, Premier collapsed about three years ago, forcing customers to return to Medicare's traditional fee-for-service plan, which lacked prescription coverage.

The Part B Medicare coverage, which includes appointments with doctors and other outpatient treatment, is going up from $54 a month by more than $4 next year, Solis said.

It includes an annual $100 deductible and 20 percent co-payments.

Supplemental plans cost anywhere from $400 to $600 per month, said Vance, an unpaid lobbyist for AARP.

Vance said pharmaceutical companies have a lobbyist for every member of Congress and oppose a prescription drug benefit under Medicare because of the investments they make in research for new drugs.

However, the same drugs costs less in Mexico and Europe.

"We are paying all of the costs of research and development" in the United States, Vance said, adding consumers in other countries should bear part of the burden.

Vance said it is "not very likely" that Congress will pass a prescription benefit for Medicare recipients during the remainder of the term.

Congress also is preoccupied with a possible war with Iraq, he said.

Candidates for Congress need to be held accountable on promises that they make on prescription coverage, Solis said.

Seniors also need to protect the integrity of Social Security, according to Morse, congressional contacts liaison for AARP.

He said Social Security came about in the 1930s because seniors accounted for the largest segment of the population living in poverty.

Morse cited four pillars for a strong retirement: Social Security, pensions, savings/earnings and health insurance.

He said AARP opposes privatization because of the volatility of the stock market, and referred to the plight of bankrupt energy trader Enron.

He said AARP opposes a plan that would allow portions of the checks to be invested because it would hurt low-income people, women and minorities.

"That is a very regressive thing," he said.

"Our goal is to preserve Social Security for future generations."

Contacted after the forum, retired teacher Bonnie Craven said she supports AARP's agenda "because I have to find some way to get cheaper prescriptions."

She said she has taken bus trips to Mexico, where she pays 30 percent less for prescriptions.