Less than a month away from the November election, Trump administration officials are reportedly rushing to implement the president's recent proposal to send $200 prescription drug discount cards to nearly 40 million Medicare recipients—an $8 billion plan that would be financed by dipping into the Medicare trust fund.
Politico reported Thursday that the administration is "seeking to finalize the plan as soon as Friday and send letters to 39 million Medicare beneficiaries next week, informing seniors of Trump's new effort to lower their drug costs, although many seniors would not receive the actual cards until after the election." While the design of the cards has yet to be finalized, officials are reportedly discussing ways to put Trump's name on them.
"It's 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."
—Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.
The plan would cost $7.9 billion, according to Politico, with $19 million going toward letters touting the initiative, which advocacy groups and Democratic lawmakers are denouncing as an obvious and potentially unlawful campaign ploy that would provide little relief for the millions impacted by obscenely high drug prices.
"There it is: Trump wants to steal billions from Medicare to pay for an illegal voter bribery scheme weeks before the election," tweeted Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.).
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, echoed Pascrell in a statement to Politico. "It's 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," said Pallone.
We’ve updated the story with the draft plan circulating in the White House.https://t.co/2dQmhiHjvW
Estimated $7.9 billion plan, paid for by tapping the Medicare trust fund, would include spending $19 million to send letters to seniors next week. pic.twitter.com/BeKBX3hV0C
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) October 8, 2020
In a speech on healthcare in Charlotte, North Carolina late last month, Trump proclaimed that his administration would "in the coming weeks" be mailing out $200 medicine discount cards to tens of millions of Medicare recipients, an announcement that reportedly caught some officials at the Department of Health and Human Services off guard.
"We don't need more PR stunts designed to distract us from the reality that President Trump has done more to help the drug corporations with big tax breaks than he has to help seniors struggling to afford medicine."
—Margarida Jorge, Lower Drug Prices Now
"Nobody's seen this before, these cards are incredible," said the president, who is badly trailing Democratic nominee Joe Biden among senior voters in recent polls. "Biden won't be doing this."
Politico reported that Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is pressuring officials to have the plan ready to go before Election Day, heightening internal concerns that the discount cards are little more than an attempt to assist Trump's reelection campaign with taxpayer dollars.
"This is a solution in search of a problem and a bald play for votes in the form of money in pockets," one unnamed HHS official told Politico.
Margarida Jorge, campaign director for Lower Drug Prices Now, said in a statement that "sending $200 gift cards to seniors before the election is a poor substitute for continuing to let drug corporations jack up their medicine prices afterwards."
"Yet again, President Trump is trying to bribe his way to re-election," said Jorge. "Americans need serious reforms that check Pharma's power to charge whatever they want and to increase prices any time. We don't need more PR stunts designed to distract us from the reality that President Trump has done more to help the drug corporations with big tax breaks than he has to help seniors struggling to afford medicine."