Pressed on uninsured, White House struggles to answer

The White House appears to have a plan to push the uninsured rate higher, but no plan to help push it lower.
Image: Deadline Approaches To Signup For Health Insurance Under Affordable Care Act
Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, before the February 15th deadline on February 5, 2015 in Miami, Florida.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

In response to the coronavirus crisis, the Trump administration considered creating a special open-enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, with the support of private insurers. But this week, for reasons that aren't altogether clear, the White House changed direction. A White House official told Politico on Tuesday the administration is "exploring other options."

Such as? When the question came up at yesterday's press briefing, Donald Trump, perhaps unsure what to say, offered Mike Pence an opportunity to answer, but the vice president struggled, too.

Pence talked at some length about insurers waiving co-pays on coronavirus treatments, expanding access to testing, building personal protective equipment and ventilators, and compensation for health care workers. What did this have to do with the uninsured? Nothing.

So, the reporter tried again, at which point the vice president spoke for a while about Medicaid and Medicare, before returning to the insurers that have waived co-pays.

Even Trump felt compelled to openly tease Pence over his evasive reply.

"I think it is one of the greatest answers I have ever heard because Mike was able to speak for five minutes and not even touch your question.... I said that's what you call a great professional," the president said. "But let me just tell you ... it's really a fair question and it is something we are looking into."

As jarring as it was to see the president mock his own vice president's evasiveness, Trump's willingness to "look into" the matter was hardly satisfying. The White House appears to have a plan to push the uninsured rate higher -- the administration still supports the Republican lawsuit to tear down the ACA in its entirety -- but no plan to help push it lower.

After Trump added yesterday that the administration would get to this, a reporter asked about the scope of his commitment. "I'm not committing," the president said. "I have to get approval. I've got a thing called Congress. It's something to look at and we have been looking. "

There are millions of Americans waiting for a much better answer.