AARP still lobbying powerhouse

Published 9:15 am Friday, February 13, 2015

Long a lobbying powerhouse for retired seniors and those nearing retirement, AARP is now turning an eye to a bill before Mississippi lawmakers the organization’s local representative said would improve health care for older people with possibly terminal conditions.

Senate Bill 2108, dubbed the Caregiver Act, would require hospitals to give patients a chance to designate a specific caregiver before they’re released from a hospital. It also requires hospitals to consult with the caregiver to prepare them for aftercare and come up with a plan for the patient’s needs once released.

“It’s to determine whether future care is in a nursing home or at home,” said John W. Smith, executive council member for AARP Mississippi and the group’s liaison for the central part of the state.

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State senators passed the bill 51-0 last week and debate now moves to the full House of Representatives. State Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, authored the bill.

On Wednesday, Smith, a 50-year educator in Chicago and Vicksburg, updated Vicksburg Lions Club members on AARP’s efforts on that bill and other efforts statewide and nationally. The organization’s support for fully funding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program continues during this legislative session, Smith said, as does defense of its support on the federal level five years ago for the Affordable Care Act.

“There are many people who left (AARP) because they’re not in favor of the Affordable Care Act,” he said of the reaction to the 37 million-member national organization’s support for the overhaul. “Well, there are a lot of things AARP does that people don’t accept. However, that does not mean you are not members.”

Describing AARP as “still a strong and potent force on the national and state level,” Smith said the organization’s strength is palpable when busloads of members and non-members trek to Jackson each year to lobby for retirees and near-retirees.

“When state representatives and senators look up in the rafters and see their constituents sitting there, it’s a powerful, powerful thing,” Smith said.

Smith represents the organization at meetings of TRIAD in Vicksburg, which meets at City Hall Annex on the last Wednesday of each month. Also, AARP organizes driver’s education classes for seniors at the Vicksburg Senior Center on South Street.

And as for those brochures and flyers that flow into mailboxes long before retirement age? In 1999, the organization shortened its name to AARP from its original name, the American Association of Retired Persons, to reflect easing its membership requirements from being retired to simply being 50 years old.

Smith recalled to Lions members receiving those, too.

“I think I turned 50 in 1980,” he said with a smile. “I suspect from 1978 to 1980, I received mail. Somehow, they got my name. I don’t know what computer base gave it away.”