Senate Democrats have staked out one of the policy arenas in which they will challenge the Trump administration: changes to the health care entitlement programs Medicare and Medicaid.
Trump pledged repeatedly during the campaign that he would not touch entitlement programs if he were elected. However, his appointment of Rep. Tom Price of Georgia to run the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as comments from House Speaker Paul Ryan about Republican priorities in the coming Congress, have left Democrats concerned that the popular but expensive programs will suffer under a Trump administration.
Price has long called for an overhaul of the system that would devolve more power to the states and rely less on government-run programs than on private insurance purchased with government subsidies. Ryan has also suggested using vouchers or similar programs to bring market forces to bear on health care costs.
On Wednesday, 21 Democratic senators -- including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -- released a letter to the President-elect urging him to keep his promise.
“We are writing to you to express our strong concerns that you have been remarkably inconsistent in your important campaign promise to protect and defend the Medicare and Medicaid programs and appear now to support policies that endanger the Medicare and Medicaid benefits that provide healthcare to tens of millions of seniors, people with disabilities, and low- and middle-income Americans. “The nomination of Congressman Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services underscores this concern.
“During your campaign for President of the United States, you differentiated yourself from your 16 primary opponents by noting that you were the only Republican who would protect Medicare and Medicaid. After winning the election, you suddenly appear to be using language supporting policies that would gut the Medicare and Medicaid programs.”
Citing language directly from Trump’s campaign appearances and published proposals, the Democrats urged him to reconsider aligning himself with Republicans who, they argue, want to privatize the government health care system.
“It's not too late to fix this problem,” they wrote. “We ask that you rapidly and publicly clarify in plain language for the American public that you continue to stand behind your campaign promises; that you will not raise the Medicare eligibility age; that you will not privatize, voucherize, or otherwise cut Medicare benefits; and that you will not put in place changes to Medicaid that force enrollees' coverage to be dropped and benefits to be cut or limited. You promised Americans you would not cut Medicare or Medicaid - please tell Americans you will stand by your promise to them.”
At a press conference Wednesday, Schumer said Democrats would fight “tooth and nail” to protect the program.
The drama over how the federal government manages health care reform is likely to play out over a period of years. While Republicans have promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act immediately when the next Congress begins, top lawmakers on Wednesday said that they expect to create a three-year phase-out period during which a replacement can be devised.