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A closing argument: Why voters cannot trust Trump on healthcare

A closing argument: Why voters cannot trust Trump on healthcare
© ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images

Amid a pandemic that has infected 8 million Americans and killed more than 218,000, health care has emerged as one of the defining issues of the 2020 presidential race.

As Americans head to the polls, many will cast their votes in large part based on which candidate they trust more to lead the country on health care during the pandemic — Donald Trump or Joe BidenJoe BidenFacebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' Senate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus MORE.

By all indications, Biden currently trounces President TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump, Jared Kusher's lawyer threatens to sue Lincoln Project over Times Square billboards Facebook, Twitter CEOs to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17 Sanders hits back at Trump's attack on 'socialized medicine' MORE on this issue nationally. According to an Oct. 8 West Health/Gallup poll, by a 52 percent to 39 percent margin, Americans trust Biden over Trump to lead the U.S. health care system most efficiently.

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Further, Biden’s growing polling lead, both nationally and in several determinative swing states, can be attributed in large part to a growing sentiment among voters: that Trump failed to provide an adequate coronavirus response and is failing the country on the issue of health care generally.

Over the last year, Trump knowingly downplayed the threat of the virus and failed to execute an effective national strategy in response to the pandemic. And, seven months later, the president still does not take the virus seriously — even though he was hospitalized with the virus and members of his administration also became ill.

In the last week, cases have surged in a majority of U.S. states, and Americans are growing increasingly worried about what the anticipated “second wave” of infections could mean for our public health system and our economy. 

Yet, instead of offering leadership, the White House has ceased coronavirus task force briefings, and President Trump continues to ignore the advice of his own health experts, hold unsafe rallies without social distancing, mock mask-wearing, and peddle falsehoods about the virus. 

Further, he has continued to politicize the development of a coronavirus vaccine and demonstrated that he would accept weaker standards for a vaccine as long as it helped his reelection chances.

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All the while, the Trump administration is using the Supreme Court to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and take away coverage for millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions in the middle of this pandemic.

While President Trump has made several transparent attempts to gain political ground on the issue of health care over the last several months, the president still has no real health care plan, and no effective replacement for the Affordable Care Act. 

Most recently, in September, Trump issued an executive order attempting to set American drug prices, including those for seniors who receive their essential prescriptions through Medicare programs, to those in foreign markets. Yet, the order threatens access to prescriptions for tens of millions of seniors and creates a significant amount of uncertainty for companies working to deliver a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine. Together, these developments are particularly worrisome, especially in the middle of a pandemic that is significantly more severe for the elderly.

Last month, President Trump also announced that he would be dipping into the Medicare Trust Fund to mail out prescription drug cards to seniors, in what is little more than a political maneuver aimed at bolstering his lagging polling margins among seniors. As several Democratic representatives wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, this move “raises serious legal questions about the misuse of taxpayer dollars to improperly influence the approaching election.”

Moreover, it makes no sense from a practical standpoint to dip into Medicare Trust Funds at the same time one of the funds is on the brink of running out, which is projected to happen by 2024, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Further, not only are Trump’s efforts short-sighted but his actions on drug policies are likely backfiring on him and causing him to lose ground among a core constituency: seniors.

Despite winning seniors (voters 65 and older) by 8 points in 2016, according to NBC exit poll data, Trump now trails Biden among these voters by 27 points, according to an October NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. This marks a 23-point swing in Biden’s direction in just the last month.

Simply put, the president has failed on health care. He has failed to manage the coronavirus pandemic, he has failed to provide so much as a cursory agenda for health care reform, and he has failed seniors by using drug policies as a political weapon, instead of a means to help struggling Americans.

In my view, Donald Trump sees health care as nothing more than a political tool. And given the president’s considerable polling deficit, it is clear that a majority of Americans share this view.

Pollster and strategist Douglas Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) is an adviser to Democratic presidential candidate and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, and previously was an adviser to President Bill Clinton. He is the author of “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”