The official, one of many to brief the media on condition of anonymity, offered just one new detail: some of the cards will be released before the election, while others will not arrive until after the voters will have chosen between Trump and his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
With this confrontation looming, Democrats blasted the administration for offering to take $ 6.6 billion from Medicare and spend it on a one-time break for older Americans, a critical voting block for both candidates.
They criticized Trump for suggesting he would pay for the move with the savings from a separate program that has yet to begin. As part of the move, Trump wants to tie the price of certain Medicare-covered drugs to lower prices available in certain other countries with governments that have the power to negotiate prices with drug companies.
“After failing to take concrete action to lower the prices of prescription drugs for the elderly, President Trump wants to steal the Medicare Trust Fund for a desperately transparent political gadget,” said House of Commons Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), In a statement released by her. Office. “The administration’s claim to use imaginary savings from nonexistent drug price reforms means Trump’s coupons are being paid for by Medicare, and seniors and taxpayers are paying the price for this blow.”
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) Called the move a “taxpayer-funded bribe.”
“It is clear that this president only cares about drug costs during election season, and Big Pharma will continue to get away with the murder as long as he is in office,” Wyden said in a statement on the site. Web of the Senate Finance Committee. “Pharmaceutical companies will pay as much for this gadget as Mexico for The Wall.”
Trump made the surprise announcement of the discount cards Thursday night in a speech billed as a preview of his vision for health care. This was not mentioned in a briefing for reporters about two hours before his speech in Charlotte.
In his remarks, Trump called the discount cards a “historic provision for the benefit of our big seniors.” He said 33 million people on Medicare “will soon receive a card in the mail containing $ 200 which they can use to pay for prescription drugs.” No one has seen this before.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity to be frank about the deliberations, said on Thursday the idea for a drug discount originated in the White House chief of staff’s office , Mark Meadows, as “a last minute thing that is always being worked out.” . “
Last week, The New York Times reported that protracted negotiations to cut drug prices collapsed after Meadows insisted drugmakers pay for $ 100 discount cards that would be mailed to seniors. before November. The pharmaceutical companies refused.
With little information to provide, experts on the obscure workings of Medicare regulations struggled on Friday to assess the legal and practical details of Trump’s plan. Edwin Park, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families, said the administration was working to claim permission for the gambit under a waiver allowed in amendments to the social security law. This waiver has long been used to test new ideas that could save eligibility programs money.
“It’s pretty shaky at best to say that we’re testing something, and we can use that authority to provide these discount cards,” Park said. “I think the question is clear. . . sending $ 200 discount cards to Medicare beneficiaries, what does that test? “
“It’s very different from a typical Medicare waiver,” added Larry Levitt, executive vice president of health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation and former White House and HHS adviser under former President Bill Clinton. . “Usually the idea of a waiver is to save money.”
Rachel Sachs, associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, law school, questioned the wisdom of the initiative at this point. HHS, she said, is focused on tackling the coronavirus pandemic and implementing other programs that Trump launched by executive order.
“It gives them one more task, which is difficult and probably won’t help so many people,” she said.