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AARP LETTER DELIVERS A BLAST

The group says Ginny Brown-Waite has promoted mistruths on health care reform.

The AARP has sent a scathing letter to U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, criticizing her for promoting mistruths in the debate over health care reform.

"On such a critical issues, there should be little or no room for misstatements ... that frighten vulnerable older Floridians or cloud this important debate with misconceptions," wrote Lori Parham, the Florida director for the 40 million-member advocacy group.

The three-page letter, faxed to Brown-Waite's office Tuesday, first thanked her for "putting principle ahead of partisanship" when she corrected myths about end-of-life counseling in an August interview with an Orlando radio station.

But it then proceeded to scold the Brooksville Republican for misrepresenting numerous elements of House Bill 3200 in a flier labeled "Ginny's Prescription," which was distributed at her August town hall meeting on health care. Brown-Waite voted against the bill as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which drafted the legislation.

The congresswoman's flier warns of spending cuts to Medicare and Medicare Advantage and invokes the concept of rationing, a persistent, yet misstated, scare tactic employed by opponents.

In an interview, Parham said Brown-Waite is the only Florida lawmaker to receive such a letter, though she sent a similar dispatch to the state Republican Party to correct a recent press release about health care reform. Parham said it appeared that Brown-Waite received much of her information from a bad source.

"It's been really difficult for our members to get the facts," Parham said. "We want to set the record straight."

A spokeswoman for Brown-Waite said the congresswoman had not received the letter, so she could not immediately comment. The Times sent Brown-Waite's office a copy of the letter, but did not get a response.

The letter came a week before AARP launches a campaign to establish itself as a neutral player in the health care debate, which will rekindle when Congress returns to Washington to resume work on the legislation after Labor Day.

Since July 1, AARP lost 60,000 members because of perceptions that it supported the Democrats' bill. The group supports components of the legislation, but it has not endorsed a particular proposal. (Also, AARP representatives noted that it added 400,000 new members during the same period.)

The AARP letter disputes Brown-Waite's statement that the House bill would cut $530 billion in Medicare spending. It notes the figure represents changes over 10 years and accounts for less than 10 percent of overall spending on the program in that time period. The group also argues the "cuts" are "savings" realized by lower payments to insurers and providers as well as new discounts offered by drug manufacturers to make prescriptions cheaper.

The group took issue with the congresswoman's argument that the bill would "completely eliminate the Medicare Advantage program," saying it phases out extra payments to align it with the traditional Medicare program.

Parnham felt Brown-Waite's flier also "encouraged an erroneous understanding ... of health care rationing" when she wrote that an appointed board would decide acceptable coverage and treatments for patients.

"AARP has determined ... that no such rationing provision exists in H.R. 3200," the letter states. "Yet we see in this document no mention of the real health care rationing that now occurs daily in Florida."

A recent PolitiFact.com report in which Brown-Waite's statements on health care were fact-checked found similar problems in her arguments. Brown-Waite has disputed the report, calling it a mischaracterization of her positions.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

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