Trump made the startling announcement during a Thursday health care speech in Charlotte, N.C., catching the drug industry and health care interest groups off guard – putting his aides on the hook to answer legal and logistical questions.
Trump wants to give out 33 million cards to seniors on Medicare, at a cost of about $7 billion. “These cards are incredible,” Trump said. “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.”
There are nearly 60 million people enrolled in Medicare, yet only about half will be receiving the debit card. The nuts and bolts of the plan still remain blurry, including who exactly will receive the card and who will be left out. As for where the money would come from – that is still to be worked out.
Where will the funds come from?
While no clear answer has been forthcoming, White House officials say the spending would be offset by a program to lower drug prices by tying them to lower prices in other countries, a plan called “most-favored-nation.” The one-time cards will provide a $200 savings off copays owed by seniors for their medications.
Medicare would cover the cost under its authority to launch demonstration programs, says the White House. Supposedly, Medicare would come out on top because the cost to the agency would be “offset by expected savings” from the yet-to-be finalized regulation called “most-favored-nation.”
So, at this point in time, one plan – the $200 coupon – relies on another plan that has yet to be finalized, and may never be approved. “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,” a spokesperson for PhRMA, a pharmaceutical industry group, said in an email, reports Reuters.
Who will get the discount cards?
Trump made no bones about why he was issuing the discount card to seniors – It is all being done to get the senior vote – a very big bloc in the voting population.
An analysis from FiveThirtyEight this month found that Biden was up in polls among voters 65 and older by about 4 percentage points, a reversal from 2016, when Trump won that age group by 13.3 percentage points.
Now, consider that Trump wants to send out 33 million discount cards – but will he be selective on who actually gets the card? Let’s look at battleground states: Florida has 2,593,338 Medicare recipients. Michigan has 1,301,774 recipients. Ohio lays claim to 1,469,964 Medicare users, and Pennsylvania has 1.625,172 recipients.
We could add Texas, with over 2.6 million seniors and others on Medicare, or New York, with 2.2 million Medicare users. If Trump can dangle that debit card carrot in front of enough seniors to sway the vote – well, you get the picture.
“He has to make sure he wins seniors in Florida,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said of Trump. “Florida and Arizona is where seniors are a big part of the vote.”
But whether or not the cards materialize, it is still a gimmick – nothing more and nothing less. “Americans need systemic, enduring reforms to our rigged drug pricing system, not election year gimmicks,” said David Mitchell, founder of the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs Now.
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