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Health care overhaul has AARP's Cramer busy

Bonnie Cramer was on the hot seat again this month, testifying before a congressional subcommittee about the rising cost of prescription drugs.

At a time when other consumer prices were dropping, she asked, why had brand-name drug prices jumped by 9.3 percent since the fall of 2008?

Her remarks did not endear her to some members of the panel, who pummeled her with pointed questions.

Cramer took it in stride. As chairwoman of the national board of AARP, the petite woman speaks with a big voice. AARP is one of the most influential lobbies in the United States, representing nearly 40 million Americans over the age of 50. The organization has been a key voice in the debate about the health care overhaul, holding more than a dozen town hall meetings and producing TV commercials about the issue. Though AARP did not stake itself out on the so-called public option, it endorsed the House bill, which contained one.

Cramer, back home in Raleigh, monitors the situation, her cell phone trilling every few minutes.

The unpaid position on the 23-member board has taken Cramer, a retired state employee, around the world. It might as well be a job, with 40-plus hours of work some weeks. She describes it as a joy, not a grind.

"It is a powerful organization. It works for the right things and has the resources to do it," she says. "I think sometimes, how lucky can a person be?"

Her former boss, state Controller David McCoy, described Cramer as one of his go-to people when he was state budget director. Cramer has the "absolute correct disposition" to deal with complex, high profile issues, he says.

"You recognized her expertise and experience, but yet she didn't have an ego," McCoy says.

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