- President Donald Trump said on Thursday that older Americans would receive $200 for prescription drugs in the coming weeks, a brazenly political effort to win them over before Election Day.
- "Nobody's seen this before. These cards are incredible," Trump said at an event in North Carolina.
- It wasn't immediately clear whether Trump has the authority to do that, and a leading drug-lobbying group said it had no idea about the administration's plan.
- Drugmakers previously rejected an effort from the administration to send cash cards to older Americans as part of a deal to lower drug prices.
- Get the inside track on the race for the White House with Business Insider's DC Bureau. Sign up here for our free event on September 29.
President Donald Trump said on Thursday that many Americans enrolled in Medicare would receive a $200 card in the mail in several weeks to better afford prescription drugs - a brazenly political effort to gain stronger support among older Americans before Election Day.
"Nobody's seen this before. These cards are incredible," Trump said at an event in North Carolina touting the administration's health record. "The cards will be mailed out in coming weeks. I will always take care of our wonderful senior citizens."
If the cards were sent to about 33 million Americans who are Medicare beneficiaries, it could cost $6.6 billion, Bloomberg reported. But it wasn't immediately clear where the funds would come from or whether the White House had the legal authority to distribute the cards.
A senior administration official told Business Insider on Thursday that the initiative would be approved under a waiver program that gives Medicare space to investigate new policy ideas. Cards could be used for copays on prescription drugs, and the initiative would draw on "savings" from Trump's "most favored nations" plan, the official said.
Under that plan, the US would get the lowest price for drugs covered by Medicare that other similarly wealthy countries pay for, usually at a lower cost. But it hasn't gone into effect.
Juliette Cubanski, the deputy director of the Medicare policy program at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Business Insider that it was tough for the administration to argue that it could pull savings from a program that doesn't exist.
"If the idea is to pay for this drug card using savings from a most-favored-nations proposal, that proposal hasn't even been formally issued," Cubanski said. "It's really difficult to see how the administration can use savings that haven't materialized."
Cubanski added that the administration would likely face a lawsuit from the pharmaceutical industry if it tried implementing the proposal through regulatory action; drugmakers fiercely oppose it.
"We have no idea how much it will save, and spending money you don't have in the bank is unwise and, in this instance, unprecedented as well," she said.
More details on funding for the program were scarce on Friday. The Wall Street Journal reported the discount cards would be distributed using money from a Medicare trust fund.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a prominent lobbying group for the drug industry, told Business Insider it didn't know what the administration was attempting to carry out.
The organization "does not have any additional information about the cards," a representative said. "As we've previously said, one-time savings cards will neither provide lasting help, nor advance the fundamental reforms necessary to help seniors better afford their medicines."
Several polls have found the Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, edging out Trump among older voters.
The Trump administration has long sought to cut drug prices. The New York Times reported last week that the White House last month was close to striking a deal with drugmakers to lower prices. But negotiations unraveled after the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, pressed them to finance $100 drug payments for older Americans before the election - they recoiled at the idea of "Trump cards."
The president also said on Thursday that he was signing an executive order mandating an "official policy of the United States government to protect patients with preexisting conditions."
However, those protections are already enshrined under the Affordable Care Act enacted by President Barack Obama. The administration supports a Republican-led lawsuit before the Supreme Court to wipe the healthcare law off the books.