Rethinking AARP: Should I Join?

images-7by Tom Sightings of Sightings Over Sixty


I remember when I received my first solicitation to join the American Association of Retired Persons. It came in the mail, shortly after I turned 50. And I was insulted. I was nowhere near retirement, and not the slightest bit interested in joining the club for old people.

A few years later I was forced into early retirement, and after my COBRA ran out I was searching for medical insurance for myself and my family. I recalled those AARP mailings and thought maybe they could help me. I went online and found nothing. So I called them up and spoke to a very nice woman who told me AARP offers supplemental insurance for people 65 and over who are on Medicare. But they only offered Major Medical in certain select areas. Where did I live?

New York.

The woman clicked a few buttons, then informed me that AARP offers no regular medical insurance “in my area.”

In my area? New York? The third largest state in the country — we’re talking about nearly 20 million people.

Sorry. Not New York. We do offer supplemental insurance in New York.

But that’s for people 65 and over. You say your organization is geared for people starting at age 50. One of the biggest issues for people in their 50s is how to get medical insurance. A lot of people have retired early, or they’ve been laid off, or they work for a company that doesn’t offer medical insurance.

Sorry. We offer Major Medical in some areas. But not New York.

So you can’t help me until I turn 65?

When you’re eligible for Medicare Parts A and B. But we have a lot of other benefits.

But no medical insurance.

So I hung up the phone and wrote AARP off my list. I went on to obtain medical insurance through an association I belong to through the work I do. And ever since then I have ignored all entreaties to join AARP. Honestly, I didn’t get too many after that conversation. I must have sifted down to their B list, or their C list. But lately, I’ve been getting more offers by email. They must have a new list. And now that I’m 60, not 50, I’m wondering again if there’s any reason to join AARP. They might be able to offer me some medical coverage in a few years, and in the meantime, maybe there are some benefits I could use.

I knew they have a magazine — I used to flip through it when I visited my mother-in-law, back in the 1980s. She always had a copy on her coffee table in her retirement complex in Florida. And every once in a while I’d see a copy at the library. Usually there’d be a picture of some middle-age movie star on the cover, someone like Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange or Kevin Costner. And I’d think, the magazine is trying to appeal to 50 year olds. But the benefits they offer are geared to people over 65. What are they trying to pull?

But now that I’m closer to 65 than I am to 50, I’ve looked at a few of those recent emails. The last one I got promised a 30 percent discount on glasses, and 25 percent off for various footwear products. Plus, 30 off certain “approved” medications. There was also an AARP credit card offering 3 percent cash back on “eligible” purchases.

Hmmmm. I could use a new pair of glasses. But these seemed like pretty common discounts. Meanwhile, my medical insurance offers a discount eye program. I have a Visa card that gives me 5 percent cash back on certain purchases and 1 percent cash back on everything else. As for the medications, my current medical insurance requires me to pay only a modest amount for drugs. I have no idea if the AARP drug plan is any better. But it doesn’t matter much for me anyway because, fortunately, I don’t use many drugs.

AARP also offers me the “opportunity” to contribute to the AARP Foundation, which helps low-income people meet their basic needs. I’m sure this is a valuable foundation. But I already have plenty of other opportunities to support worthy causes.

I checked out another email, then followed a link to the AARP website to search out more benefits. Discounts at Border’s and Tanger Outlet stores. Discounts at various hotels and car-rental companies. These discounts seem to parallel the discounts I get as a member of AAA — 5 percent here, 10 percent there.

AARP does offer auto insurance and homeowner’s insurance. But after the medical insurance episode, I wondered if you have to be over 65 to take advantage of these offers, or if you have to live in certain states. And since the other AARP discounts seem about the same as AAA discounts, I can’t see why they’d be anything special.

I also noticed that AARP offers a legal service, with a 20 percent discount on lawyers’ fees. I’m not going to sue anyone in the near future, but this might come in handy next time we sell our house, or if we want to update our wills or write a DNR order.

So I conclude that there’s nothing “wrong” with AARP. It might offer some people some modest benefits, if you don’t belong to AAA or any other similar organization. But if you do belong to AAA, the financial benefits seem redundant.

Otherwise, it seems, there’s no point until you turn 65 and start looking for supplemental health insurance. So, I’ll give them a call in a couple of years.

But I’d love to know — am I missing something? Is there an AARP benefit I might need? What does AARP do for you? And would you recommend it to a Baby Boomer like me?

Photo credit:


Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: