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Seniors' old friend turns foe, for some

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Senior Democrats cried foul. "The AARP has forgotten where they come from, because once you get into the business of making money with the devil you forget your mission," says Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York, referring to royalties the AARP receives from insurance marketed to its members. Opponents of the largely GOP-crafted Medicare bill worry that the clout of an AARP endorsement will be enough to win passage of what they say is a deeply flawed bill.

Longer lives, more political power

American seniors are living longer and gaining political clout. During this decade, the 65-and-over demographic will grow at a higher rate than the total US population, and three to four times as high after 2011, when the baby boomers begin to retire, according to US census data.

But as this group matures, significant differences are surfacing on once monolithic, so-called senior issues, such as healthcare. Many Americans work into their 70s, and live active, independent lives well beyond that. That's one reason the AARP in 2001 dropped the words "retired persons" from its full name, retaining just the initials.

Such splits are also surfacing in voting patterns. "The senior vote was always viewed as people over 65 and always viewed as a slam-dunk Democratic vote ,and during the '90s it wasn't," says pollster John Zogby.

The challenge of representation

For senior organizations such as the AARP, representing such a big tent group is a challenge, never more so than in the complex and wide-ranging Medicare bill.

The bill aims to add a prescription drug benefit to a system still focused on acute care for seniors in hospitals. It offers seniors a choice between a stand-alone drug plan for a private health plan that offers drug coverage.

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