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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Trump says he’s sending seniors $200 drug coupons

President Donald Trump is promising to send $200 drug discount cards to 33 million seniors, an election year bid aimed at saying he’s lowering sky high prescription drug costs for older Americans.

“Nobody’s seen this before, these cards are incredible,” Trump said Thursday during a speech on health care. “The cards will be mailed out in coming weeks, I will always take care of our wonderful senior citizens. Joe Biden won’t be doing this.”

Sending coupons to that many Medicare beneficiaries would cost at least $6.6 billion. Two senior White House staff said the money can be used as part of a Medicare program, called the 402 demonstration, that tests innovations that could save money or improve the quality of care in Medicare.

The Trump administration has pledged repeatedly to lower drug costs, yet drug makers have raised the price of hundreds of medicines amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The announcement of the cards came after talks with the pharmaceutical industry’s major lobby broke down this month, prompting Trump to move ahead with his own plan to slash drug costs — a point of friction between the administration and the industry.

In mid-September, he signed a new executive order for a “most favored nations” plan, which would tie Medicare payments for certain drugs to the significantly lower costs of treatments abroad. The White House said it would use savings from this program - which has not been enacted - to offset the cost of the drug coupon cards.

Public Citizen, a watchdog and consumer advocacy group, slammed the move as a “pathetic attempt to bribe [seniors] for their votes.”

“The solution to outlandishly high pharmaceutical prices is not to give people money to offset extortionate drug prices; the solution is to end price gouging altogether,” Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said in a statement.

The White House had urged pharmaceutical companies to pay for $100 drug coupons. The industry balked, as pharmaceutical executives were uncomfortable with the optics of "Trump cards" so close to the election, The New York Times reported.

Trump's revival — and enlargement — of the discount cards caught the health care industry by surprise, according to lobbyists who described themselves baffled as to what the president was talking about, and how he could claim authority to spend so much money on the effort.

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