WASHINGTON – If you’re on Medicare, don’t run to the mailbox looking for a $200 prescription drug card courtesy of President Donald Trump.
Government officials said Friday that key details of Trump's election-year giveaway still have to be fleshed out, including the exact timing and how Medicare's cost would be covered — a sum that could approach $7 billion.
It's also unclear which Medicare enrollees will get the promised cards. Trump said 33 million beneficiaries would receive cards in the mail, but more than 60 million people are covered by the federal health insurance program for seniors.
Trade groups representing the two industries most affected by the plan — drug companies and insurers — said they have received no specifics from the Trump administration. Public policy experts called it an attention-grabbing move — weeks before the presidential election — that won't change much in the end.
“Providing a coupon does absolutely nothing to address the underlying problem of high and rising drug prices,” said Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “The administration has had nearly four years to work with Congress or go through the regulatory process to adopt proposals that could have a real and sustained impact on drug prices.”
For example, a bipartisan Senate bil l would have capped out-of-pocket costs for Medicare recipients with high drug bills, while also limiting price increases by requiring rebates to the program. But it stalled this year even though Trump lined up behind it. The compromise faced opposition from the drug industry and from Republican senators who saw it as a path to government price controls. The emergence of more ambitious legislation from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi diminished Democrats' appetite for a deal.
Meanwhile, the administration is still working on regulatory actions to try to peg what Medicare pays for medications to lower prices abroad. That's what Trump often refers to as “favored nations,” an idea that could lead to big savings but is likely to face legal challenges from the pharmaceutical industry.
Medicare enrollees can get prescription drug coverage by purchasing a “Part D” drug plan or by joining a Medicare Advantage plan. Announcing the savings cards Thursday at a speech in Charlotte, N.C., Trump called it a “historic provision” to benefit seniors. “Nobody has seen this before,” he said with typical salesmanship. “These cards are incredible.”