AARP conducted forums in Buffalo and six other cities in the state Thursday as the organization kicked off a national campaign in New York to make health care and financial security the top domestic items in the next presidential election.
The campaign, called Divided We Fail, includes an assortment of groups that are usually at odds with each other, including the National Federation of Independent Business, the Business Roundtable and the Service Employees International Union.
"We need to break the partisan gridlock that is paralyzing Washington, D.C.," said Kevin Donnellan, AARP's chief communications officer.
The aim of the campaign is not to push a particular solution but to make health care and financial security in retirement the main domestic agenda priorities among national policymakers, officials said.
"The presidential candidates need to know that we are listening and that we are demanding solutions," said Bill Armbruster, associate state director for AARP.
Almost 39 million Americans belong to AARP, the lobbying group for older Americans. Officials said 25 percent of the members voted in the last presidential election.
The forum in Amherst attracted about 100 people, many of whom shared stories of the problems they face as a result of spiraling health insurance costs or inadequate retirement income.
Terry Fleig of Orchard Park, a self-employed copywriter, said her family's health insurance bill increased from $1,284 a month in 2006 to $1,743 a month this year, a 36 percent increase.
"We can barely make it anymore," she said.
Patricia Armstrong, a 68-year-old retired medical technologist, described how she would lose her late husband's survivor benefit, which she depends on now to live, if she remarries. Her husband died more than 20 years ago.
"Here I am at age 68, and I've met the man of my dreams, and we can't afford to get married," she said.