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If you google 'AARP elder abuse,' your first 30 or so results are pages of the American Association of Retired Persons' efforts to combat the emotional and financial abuse of elderly people. But the same non-profit that touts its efforts to protect elders is now being sued for defrauding them.
A new class action lawsuit filed in California accuses AARP of elder financial abuse, claiming it has been taking kickbacks from UnitedHealth Group for selling AARP-branded health insurance plans, overcharging its members in the process.
Royalties, Kickbacks, and Legal Fictions
As reported by Courthouse News, the lawsuit was filed by AARP member Simon Leavy on behalf of other members who had been charged a 4.95 percent "royalty" for selling AARP-branded UnitedHealth insurance policies. The suit claims AARP:
"... receives hundreds of millions of dollars through business partnerships with large insurance companies such as UnitedHealth Group, Inc. and UnitedHealthCare Insurance Company (collectively, 'United Health') in the form of 'royalties,' which are actually commissions in disguise to avoid obtaining an insurance license and to avoid paying taxes on the income."
Essentially, AARP was using the royalties as a "legal fiction" in order to operate as an unlicensed insurer, according to the class action lawsuit, in violation of California insurance and business laws.
Elder Health Care
It's not the first time AARP or UnitedHealth have been in this kind of legal trouble. In May, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers California) allowed another class action lawsuit to proceed that also claimed that the royalties AARP collected for promoting UnitedHealth Group insurance plans to its members were in fact illegal commissions. And also in May the U.S. Department of Justice sued UnitedHealth for exaggerating how sick patients were in order to overcharge Medicare by billions of dollars.