Trump aide says insulin-for-seniors price deal not about 'politics' as older voters flock to Biden

'We're talking policy today at the White House, not politics' Kellyanne Conway says of afternoon announcement

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Tuesday 26 May 2020 17:35 BST
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Donald Trump will deliver remarks on Tuesday afternoon aimed at seniors with diabetes at a time he is trailing Joe Biden across the country with older voters.

The president is slated to announce a deal brokered by White House officials with insulin manufacturers that will provide new health insurance plans that will lower their out-of-pocket insulin copays to $35 a month, Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to Mr Trump, said on Tuesday. The administration has been looking at ways to lower insulin costs, with that drug considered a poster child for inflated medication prices in the United States.

Ms Conway said the new plans could slash diabetic seniors' insulin costs by 66 per cent in a single year. Inking the deal with the drug makers is being viewed as a political win for Mr Trump as he seeks to win back a voting crucial bloc he took 53 per cent to 44 per cent in 2016.

"The timing really is geared toward open enrolment," and not the 2020 election, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Director Seema Verma said on the same briefing call with reporters. Ms Verma called Mr Trump's 4 pm Rose Garden announcement as the culmination of a "three-year process." Ms Conway added: "We're talking policy today at the White House, not politics."

Lower drug prices, especially for older Americans, long has been one of bipartisan agreement, though congressional Republicans and the White House have been unable to strike a deal with Democrats. They did come to terms on 2018 legislation that Mr Trump signed into law aimed at helping patients obtain information to cheaper drug options from their pharmacist.

The House in December passed a Democratic-written measure largely aimed at seniors that would allow the Medicare program to negotiate prices with drug manufacturers for certain medicines, including insulin. But the GOP-run Senate never took up that measure and the White House said Mr Trump would veto it.

Aides to Mr Trump said in a statement they concluded the measure is unconstitutional, "would likely undermine access to lifesaving medicines," would would lead to erode "the incentive to bring innovative therapeutics to market."

But the matter is expected to be a presidential election issue.

"I've seen grown men cry on the campaign trail because they cannot meet the prescription drug cost, whether they have a spouse that is ill or a child with a pre-existing conditions," Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters said in December, adding of her bill. "This will make all the difference in the world."

Mr Trump will speak directly to seniors at a time he needs to mend fences with them in several swing states, like Florida, that he will need to win in November to secure a second term.

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week suggests trouble for the president with this key voting bloc.

Just over half (51 per cent) of those 65 years old or older said they would vote for Mr Biden if the election was held today, compared to 41 per cent for the president.

Deeper within the poll, more clues about the uphill fight Mr Trump faces with seniors.

While the former VP is viewed as favourable by 50 per cent of seniors, Mr Trump is viewed as unfavourable by 55 per cent. More than half of those 65 or older, 55 per cent, disapprove of the president's job performance. And 50 percent "disapprove strongly" about how he is handling the job.

Though seniors are split on Mr Trump's handling of the economy, 51 per cent disapprove of his handling of health care, highlighting the importance of his afternoon remarks.

Forty-eight per cent of those surveyed responded they are "very dissatisfied" when they were asked this: "In general, how satisfied are you with the way things are going in the nation today."

The president's remarks come against the backdrop of the larger health care debate in the 2020 race. Mr Trump is again pushing to "repeal and replace" the 2010 health law known as "Obamacare," though he and congressional Republicans have yet to release a plan that might, if passed by both chambers of Congress, take its place. Mr Biden has proposed less far reaching health plans than the long list of Democratic candidates he defeated in the party's primary cycle.

"As we turn to the 2020 Democratic primaries it seems that the candidates face a stark choice between pleasing Democrat voters during the primaries and the whole electorate in the general election," Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution and former Clinton White House aide wrote earlier this year. "But there's a way out of the trap. By a margin of 51 per cent to 39 per cent, rank-and-file Democrats want the new Democratic majority in the House to focus on improving and protecting the [Affordable Care Act] rather than passing 'Medicare for All.'"

Expect Mr Trump to echo conservative experts like Robert Moffit of the Heritage Foundation, who has said "The only way to efficiently control costs and ensure the delivery of higher-quality medical goods and services is to replace central planning and price controls with expanded beneficiary choice and robust market competition, reduce unnecessary regulation, and foster innovation in the financing and delivery of medical care."

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