GREAT FALLS, MT - JULY 05: U.S. president Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Four Seasons Arena on July 5, 2018 in Great Falls, Montana....
Justin Sullivan

Trump’s boasts on health care take an incoherent turn

In June, Donald Trump told supporters his administration would release a new health care policy in “two weeks,” which would’ve meant an unveiling by the 4th of July. Soon after, the president seemed to extend his deadline a bit, saying we’d see some kind of new health policy in “three weeks,” which would’ve brought us to July 19.

And yet, there have been no announcements on the health care front. That is, until yesterday, when Trump spoke at a forum in Iowa and boasted that his administration is “doing a different form of health care that’s turning out to incredible.”

What was he talking about? The president soon after explained:

“[The Affordable Care Act is] virtually, it’s on its last legs right now. [HHS Secretary] Alex Acosta has come up with incredible health care plans through the Department of Labor – association plans where you associate, where you have groups and you get tremendous health care at a very small cost. And it’s across state lines; you can compete all over the country. They compete. They want to get it. And, Alex, I hear it’s like record business that they’re doing.

“We just opened about two months ago, and I’m hearing that the numbers are incredible.”

None of this made sense. First, association health plans are neither “incredible” nor “tremendous.” As we recently discussed, the opposite is true.

Second, when the president said yesterday that these new association plans are doing “record business” and generating “incredible” numbers, he has no idea what he’s talking about: these plans won’t be available until Sept. 1.

In other words, Trump boasted about Americans in large numbers signing up for health care plans that, in reality, do not yet exist.

But even if we put aside those details, what the president doesn’t seem to understand is that his entire association-plan endeavor is a bit of a dud. Politico  reported two weeks ago:

Trump, who’s touted the expansion of so-called association health plans as a key plank in his strategy to tear down Obamacare, even announced the rules at the 75th anniversary party of the National Federation of Independent Business last month, claiming the group’s members will save “massive amounts of money” and have better care if they join forces to offer coverage to workers.

But the NFIB, which vigorously promoted association health plans for two decades, now says it won’t set one up, describing the new Trump rules as unworkable. And the NFIB isn’t the only one: Several of the nationwide trade groups that cheered Trump’s new insurance rules told POLITICO they’re still trying to figure out how to take advantage of them and whether the effort is even worth it.

That could signal there’s minimal early interest in an initiative the administration says will help lower health care costs — and one that Trump himself has prematurely hailed as a wild success. Trump falsely claimed during rallies in recent weeks that “millions” are signing up, though the new health plans can’t be sold until Sept. 1.

Vox’s Dylan Scott described the entire White House initiative as “kind of a flop.”

To understand where things stand in the health care debate, I’d recommend paying close attention to everything Trump said yesterday and believing the exact opposite.