The Trump administration will begin sending $200 discount cards to Medicare recipients “soon as mechanically possible” but not all of them will be dispatched by Election Day, administration officials said Friday.
President Trump touted the discount cards as part of a broad speech on health reform in North Carolina, prompting fears he is using taxpayer money to appeal to seniors — a key voting bloc — in the run-up to Nov. 3.
“Under my plan, 33 million Medicare beneficiaries will soon receive a card in the mail containing $200 that they can use to help pay for prescription drugs. Nobody has seen this before. These cards are incredible. The cards will be mailed out in coming weeks,” Mr. Trump said in North Carolina.
It’s unclear if the president’s name will appear on the cards, which can be used to defray co-pays.
Democrats are describing the effort as a “taxpayer-funded bribe” and a “brazen misuse” of federal dollars.
Yet Mr. Trump is doing something that all presidents do to ease their path to reelection, said Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University.
Namely, the president is flexing powers to repurpose or reallocate funds, a practice that dates back to struggles between the British parliament and king, who needed a type of “slush fund” to cover emergencies despite not having the power of the purse.
“It is part of the enormous latitude that Congress has given presidents and they use it for everything from redirecting Pentagon money to the Mexican wall to banning offshore oil drilling off the Florida coast,” Mr. Baker said. “Presidents can also expedite funds already appropriated by Congress but not yet spent in order to further their political ends which usually involve influencing elections.”
Mr. Trump recently provided $13 billion in disaster aid to Puerto Rico for hurricane damage in 2017, a move that many interpreted as a signal to Hispanic voters in swing-state Florida.
Then, he released an additional $14 billion for farmers who continue to face market disruptions and costs from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The president didn’t dole out cash to lobstermen in Maine, though he did open waters that the Obama administration had closed. Mr. Trump secured just one of Maine’s four electoral votes in 2016, and he wants them all this time.
The White House said it will fund the $6.6 billion Medicare initiative as a “402 demonstration” project — a program designed to test innovations — and offset the cost with savings from Mr. Trump’s “favored nations” clause, which aligns U.S. prices for certain Medicare drugs with those in other developed nations.
The favored-nations program that doesn’t exist yet, however — it just entered the rulemaking process — so the administration is banking on future savings.
Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said Big Pharma “will be paying as much for this gimmick as Mexico is paying for The Wall.”
“It’s clear this president only cares about drug costs during campaign season, and Big Pharma will continue to get away with murder as long as he’s in office,” Mr. Wyden said. “Trump is resorting to gimmicky coupons that hide the fact that he has totally failed to lower drug prices and that Big Pharma is thriving under his watch.”