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The problem with Trump's drug discount cards for seniors

Trump's repeatedly claimed he's lowering prescription costs, but nearly all of those claims are false, so now he's pushing dubious medication coupon cards.
Image: A pharmacy employee dumps pills into a pill counting machine as she fills a prescription.
A pharmacy employee dumps pills into a pill counting machine.Lucas Jackson / Reuters, file

As part of the rollout of his faux health care plan, Donald Trump boasted yesterday that he'll soon send $200 drug-discount cards to 33 million Medicare beneficiaries. "Nobody has seen this before," the president said. "These cards are incredible."

He added that the initiative, at a cost of $6.6 billion, would be paid for in part by a most-favored-nation-pricing program in which the United States will pay for medications through Medicare at the same rates as other countries.

But that made far less sense than the president seemed to realize: the most-favored-nation-pricing program the president pointed to doesn't yet exist, so its savings can't pay for these medication coupons.

This morning, Team Trump tried to clarify matters. The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House is actually planning to borrow from a Medicare trust fund for its election-season scheme, but the details remain murky.

Little information has been provided about how the discount-card program would be funded. Mr. Trump didn't provide specifics about how the program would be funded or the legal authority allowing the federal government to send out the cards to seniors, prompting questions from health-policy experts. A spokesman at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees Medicare, on Thursday referred questions to the White House.... The White House declined to comment.

The article quoted David Mitchell, the founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs Now, a bipartisan Washington-based nonprofit that aims to lower drug prices, saying, "It is not at all clear if this is legal or how the president will pay for his scheme."

Sure, but other than that, it's fine.

If the White House does intend to borrow from a Medicare trust fund, it would certainly be consistent with Team Trump's m.o. We are, after all, talking about an administration that raided the Pentagon budget to pay for border barriers and raided the FEMA budget to pay for reduced unemployment benefits.

Tapping Medicare money to pay for an election-season gimmick fits the pattern.

Complicating matters, Trump has spent recent weeks claiming he lowered the cost of prescription drugs, but nearly all of those claims are demonstrably untrue. It may be contributing to the Republican's difficulties winning over support from seniors -- a voting bloc that helped propel him to victory four years ago.

It also likely led the president to scramble to come up with something that might make him more popular. Dubious medication coupon cards appear to be the best Team Trump could do.