- Trump said on Thursday that seniors would receive $200 for prescription drugs in the mail in the coming weeks, a brazenly political effort to win over seniors before Election Day.
- “Nobody’s seen this before. These cards are incredible,” Trump said at a North Carolina event.
- It’s not immediately clear Trump has the authority to pull it off, and a leading drug lobbying group said it had no idea about the administration’s plan.
- Drug makers previously rejected an effort from the administration to send cash cards to seniors as part of a deal to lower drug prices.
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President Donald Trump said on Thursday many Americans enrolled in Medicare will receive a $200 card in the mail in several “weeks” so they can better afford prescription drugs — a brazenly political effort to gain stronger support among seniors before Election Day.
“Nobody’s seen this before. These cards are incredible,” Trump said at an event aimed at touting the administration’s health record. “The cards will be mailed out in coming weeks. I will always take care of our wonderful senior citizens.”
Around 33 million Americans are Medicare beneficiaries, and the measure could carry a $6.6 billion price tag, Bloomberg reported. But it is not immediately clear where funds would be pulled from or whether the White House possessed the legal authority to actually distribute the cards.
A senior administration official told Business Insider the initiative would be approved under a waiver program that gives Medicare space to probe new policy ideas. Cards can be used for co-pays on prescription drugs, and the initiative would draw on “savings” from Trump’s “Most Favored Nations” plan, the official said.
Under the proposal, the US gets the lowest price for drugs covered by Medicare that other similarly wealthy countries pay for, usually at a smaller cost. But it hasn’t gone into effect.
Juliette Cubanski, the deputy director of the Medicare policy program at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Business Insider it’s tough for the administration to argue it can pull savings from a program that doesn’t currently exist.
“It boils down if the idea is to pay for this drug card using savings from a Most Favored Nations proposal, that proposal hasn’t even been formally issued,” Cubanski said. “It’s really difficult to see how the administration can use savings that haven’t materialized.”
Cubanski added the administration would likely face a lawsuit from the pharmaceutical industry if it tried implementing “Most Favored Nations” through regulatory action. Drugmakers fiercely oppose it.
“We have no idea how much it will save and spending money you don’t have in the bank is unwise and in this instance, unprecedented as well,” she said.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a prominent lobbying group for the drug industry, told Business Insider it didn’t know what the administration was attempting to carry out.
“PhRMA does not have any additional information about the cards,” a spokesperson said, using an acronym for the organization. “As we’ve previously said, one-time savings cards will neither provide lasting help, nor advance the fundamental reforms necessary to help seniors better afford their medicines.”
Several polls recently show Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden edging out Trump among older voters.
The Trump administration has sought to cut drug prices as one of its priorities. The New York Times recently reported the White House was close to striking a deal with drugmakers to lower prices last month.
But negotiations unraveled after White House chief of staff Mark Meadows pressed the industry to finance $100 drug payments for seniors before the election. They recoiled at the idea for “Trump cards.”
On Thursday, the president also said he was signing an executive order mandating is is “official policy of the United States Government to protect patients with pre-existing conditions.”
However, those protections are already enshrined under the Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama. The administration supports a Republican-led lawsuit before the Supreme Court to wipe the healthcare law off the books.