- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 24, 2020

President Trump signed an executive order Thursday that says it is the “policy of the United States” that health insurers cannot deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions, even if the Supreme Court strikes down the same protections in Obamacare.

Mr. Trump, who was unable to one-up the 2010 health law during his first term, said he will offer better choices if voters elect him again.

“We will have a better and less expensive plan that will always protect people with preexisting conditions,” he said in North Carolina, a swing state.

Mr. Trump also directed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II to find an executive solution to stop “surprise medical billing” if Congress cannot pass a law by Jan. 1 addressing the practice, in which patients are socked with high costs because of services provided outside of their insurance networks.

It’s unclear what authority Mr. Azar would use, and health policy experts said the order on preexisting conditions does not carry the authority of actual legislation, so it amounts to an aspirational document.

Mr. Trump signed the orders as he tries to rack up health policy wins and narrow his polling deficit with Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden on the issue before Election Day. He touted progress on a vaccine for the coronavirus and insisted the U.S. is turning the corner in its fight.

He said the plans offered by Obamacare are unaffordable — though pointed to stabilizing rates under his leadership — and that a push for single-payer health care will end in disarray.

“The new Democrat lie is that they will cover pre-existing conditions — but in truth, their socialist takeover, economic shutdown, and coverage for illegal immigrants will collapse our economy, and make our healthcare system totally insolvent,” Mr. Trump said.

Health care is on the ballot again as Mr. Trump and Republicans rush to fill a Supreme Court vacancy ahead of another showdown over Obamacare.

Mr. Trump is pushing an across-the-board health agenda to slash drug prices and make medical bills fair and transparent. But the president hasn’t explained in detail how he would replace President Obama’s health law, while shielding people with preexisting conditions, if he gains a second term and is in a position to pass legislation.

Previous Republican attempts to address the issue allowed states to opt out of rules or issue policies to sicker Americans that didn’t guarantee coverage for the preexisting condition.

Mr. Azar, in a call with reporters, said Mr. Trump is “making a clear, defined statement of U.S. policy that people with preexisting conditions are protected.”

Experts say the order doesn’t amount to much.

“Trump and the Republicans couldn’t pass an alternative to Obamacare in 2017 when they controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. But now he can just sign an executive order and everything is fixed?” wrote Bob Laszewski, a health policy consultant in Virginia, on his blog. “This is just an election-year gimmick in an attempt to persuade voters that Trump has health care policy under control.”

Democrats see a political advantage, citing Mr. Trump’s expansion of cheaper, bare-bones plans that don’t have to be offered to people with preexisting conditions and the GOP’s failed 2017 bid to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Most notably, Mr. Trump supports the state-driven legal challenge before the justices, which says Congress’ decision to zero out Obamacare’s penalty for lacking insurance means the rest of the law is invalid.

“Despite repeatedly promising to release a health care proposal, President Trump has never offered a plan of his own,” said Mr. Biden.

Democrats used health care to their advantage during the 2018 midterm elections, retaking the House.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found voters in Arizona, Florida and North Carolina give Mr. Biden a 7-point edge on handling health care over Mr. Trump, 52% to 45%.

However, health care is far less important to them than the economy — their top priority — and they give Mr. Trump a clear edge on that topic.

The television airwaves are swamped with health care ads in Michigan.

A Biden ad features heart-wrenching testimony from Kaitlin Burge about her son Beckett and his struggle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She’s afraid that Mr. Trump will rip away their health coverage.

It includes a gripping black and white photograph of Beckett’s sister Aubrey trying to comfort him as he leans over an open toilet after chemotherapy.

“Affordable health care is a life or death question for my family,” Mrs. Burge said. “If Donald Trump gets rid of our health care law, my son won’t be protected.”

In another ad, Mr. Biden says the deaths of his wife and daughter in a car crash and his son Beau to cancer, make the health care fight personal.

“Fact of the matter is, health care is personal to me,” he says. “Obamacare is personal to me. When I see the president of the United States try to eliminate this health care in the middle of a public health crisis, that’s personal to me, too. We’ve got to build on what we did because every American deserves affordable health care.”

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, is warning viewers that Mr. Biden spent decades trying to cut spending on Social Security and Medicare.

“Now Biden’s promising your benefits to illegal immigrants,” the narrator says. “President Trump is protecting Social Security and Medicare — lowering costs, expanding access, keeping his word.”

Mr. Trump signed a batch of executive orders in late July that are designed to slash prescription prices by allowing the importation of drugs from Canada, passing certain Medicare rebates onto consumers instead of intermediaries, and aligning Medicare Part B and Part D drugs with prices that other developed nations pay.

Critics of the moves say they will be challenged in court and tied up in rule making, so Americans probably won’t see changes any time soon.

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