In the midst of promising to roll out a faux-health-care initiative to replace the Affordable Care Act, President Trump announced on Thursday that he intends to send $200 drug discount cards to over 33 million Medicare beneficiaries.
“Nobody’s seen this before, these cards are incredible,” Trump said of his pharmaceutical blessing for seniors. “The cards will be mailed out in coming weeks, I will always take care of our wonderful senior citizens. Joe Biden won’t be doing this.”
By mentioning the name of his opponent and the crucial October timeline, the action is clearly designed to boost his image among older voters — a key demographic in his 2016 win — as seniors favored Biden in two polls this month by double digits. However, like so many Republican health-care pushes before it, it’s unlikely that this one will come to fruition. Such an effort would cost at least $6.6 billion, and the White House intends to fund the coupon cards through a regulation announced earlier in September that has not yet been enacted. That executive order, called the “most favored nations” plan, would allow Medicare to purchase prescription drugs for the same price that providers in European countries with socialized medicine pay.
To clarify, as drug makers actually increase prices for their products and Republicans refuse to pass a second COVID stimulus package, Trump is pushing two initiatives that don’t yet functionally exist that depend on one another to work. This magical thinking comes after a scuttled deal the White House almost managed to secure to reduce prescription prices, as the New York Times noted last week:
The drug companies would spend $150 billion to address out-of-pocket consumer costs and would even pick up the bulk of the co-payments that older Americans shoulder in Medicare’s prescription drug program.
Then the agreement collapsed. The breaking point, according to four people familiar with the discussions: Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, insisted the drug makers pay for $100 cash cards that would be mailed to seniors before November — “Trump Cards,” some in the industry called them.
Some of the drugmakers bridled at being party to what they feared would be seen as an 11th-hour political boost for Mr. Trump, the people familiar with the matter said.
In terms of appealing to seniors come November, it would probably benefit Trump more to enact genuine prescription-cost relief rather than to bail on the plan because there wouldn’t be “Trump cards” — only to announce a plan to issue those same, most-likely-irredeemable coupons the next week. The president’s electoral tactic here is convoluted and ineffective, and as New York’s Eric Levitz notes, there’s a far simpler plan waiting out there: Stop telling seniors that you don’t care if they die.