A day after President Donald Trump promised that Medicare beneficiaries would get a $200 prescription discount card within weeks, administration officials said all the cards wouldn’t be going out before the Nov. 3 election.
The White House is still working out how to pay for the plan and how to distribute the cards, a senior official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a Friday briefing. The White House will say more about its plans in the near future, the official said, adding the cards will go out as soon as mechanically possible. Overall, the plan could cost $6.6 billion.
On Thursday, just 40 days before the presidential election, Trump said that Americans covered by the federal health-care program for seniors and the disabled would receive the cards within weeks to help pay for their costly pharmaceuticals.
The announcement, though, blindsided health-care companies and their lobbyists, according to people familiar with the matter.
At one major drug firm, the company’s government relations staff watched the speech on television and attempted to figure out what the president was talking about. At another major health-care company the scene was similar – they had no idea what the program was, how it would work, if it was legal, or where the money would come from.
Spokespeople for the industry’s two largest trade organizations, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, said the groups haven’t been given any additional information on the plan.
Bloomberg News on Thursday reported that the discount cards would be paid for by funds drawn from a demonstration program Medicare uses to test new payment systems. The cost is expected to be offset by future savings generated from new price cuts Trump has ordered for drugs bought by Medicare, according to a White House official.
It isn’t a coincidence that the president announced the drug discount cards with just a short time before the November election. Trump himself framed the cards as a political move, remarking in his speech Thursday that “Joe Biden won’t be doing this.”
Seniors are a problem for the president; after winning voters 65 and older by nine points in 2016, recent polls show him tied or trailing the former vice president in the demographic. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has gone as far to suggest it would force pharmaceutical industry to stomach the multibillion dollar cost of the discount cards.
“It’s the first time that money has gone from Big Pharma’s pockets to American seniors’ pockets, and this president made sure that it happened,” said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said on Friday in a television interview.
Democrats called the cards a blatant attempt to buy votes from elderly people. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, called the plan a “Taxpayer Funded Bribe” in a statement.
“Trump is resorting to gimmicky coupons that hide the fact that