President Trump announced two weeks ago a surprise plan to send $200 drug-discount cards to 39 million Medicare beneficiaries, and Politico reports Thursday that officials are scrambling to execute that effort before Election Day.
The administration is hurrying to iron out the plan — which reportedly is being driven by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows — and a final version is expected as soon as Friday, with announcement letters going out to seniors next week. The cards themselves, which could be branded with Trump’s name, will start going out later in the month, though not all would be delivered before the November election.
What the plan does: The White House wants to use $8 billion from the Medicare trust fund to cover the cost of discount cards that 39 million Medicare beneficiaries can use to save $200 on prescription drugs.
The administration says that the plan will be considered a test of the effectiveness of the discount card system as it relates to drug use. Such tests are allowed under federal law, although not all experts agree that the plan satisfies the necessary requirements to qualify as a test.
A political effort? The political context is hard to ignore. “The plan to lower seniors' drug costs comes as administration officials grapple with Trump's falling support among older Americans, a significant threat to his re-election,” Politico’s Dan Diamond said. “Trump is currently lagging challenger Joe Biden by as much as 27 points in recent polls among Americans ages 65 and older, a major reversal from the 2016 campaign, with seniors now voicing concerns about Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his chaotic leadership style.”
Trump administration officials have denied that there is anything political about the plan. It’s just “good policy,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, described the plan as “a shameless stunt that steals billions from Medicare in order to fund a legally dubious scheme that’s clearly intended to benefit President Trump’s campaign right before Election Day.”
Health care experts have raised questions, as well. “There are a lot of things that seem problematic," Stacie Dusetzina of Vanderbilt University told Politico. “It's an incredibly large amount of money to be spending [and] it's not really solving any systemic problem.”