Trump's health care pitch to focus on lowering costs

Trump's health care pitch to focus on lowering costs
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE wants to seize the health care mantle from Democrats ahead of the 2020 election by highlighting actions he says will lower costs and challenge special interests.

Trump is touting a series of actions on drug pricing and other consumer-friendly issues, a move designed to position the president as a populist champion of transparency and reduced medical bills.

But the president faces an uphill battle, as Democrats won’t let voters forget his record on health care, including repeated efforts to repeal and undermine ObamaCare.

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Earlier this week, he issued an executive order that would force hospitals, insurers and doctors to disclose their prices upfront.

“We’re taking power away from bureaucrats,” Trump said at a White House event Monday. “We’re taking it away from insurance companies and away from special interests. We’re giving that power back to patients.”

The executive order seeks to bring more transparency to the health care system and could shine a light on opaque price negotiations. The administration argues that will drive down costs because it would empower patients to shop around for the best prices, though some critics argue it could have the opposite effect.

If patients know the costs of health care services up front, the White House argues, it could help prevent surprise medical bills, which are increasingly becoming a source of anxiety for Americans.

The executive order relies on federal agencies to make changes through rules and regulations that could take several months to finalize.

Trump also highlighted his renewed focus on medical care costs last week at his reelection campaign kickoff rally in Florida.

“We will create a great health care system based on honesty, transparency, more options, and far lower costs for much better care,” Trump told a crowd of thousands of supporters.

Other administrative actions in the works include a proposal to link Medicare drug prices to those paid by other countries, as well as a plan to eliminate the secretive rebates negotiated between drug companies and pharmaceutical middlemen.

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Those come on top of a recently released rule that will force drug companies to publicly disclose their list prices in television ads.

The shift in strategy from Trump represents a recognition that health care costs are consistently a top issue for Americans.

Voters “are unbelievably focused on their own personal costs,” said Robert Blendon, a health policy professor at Harvard University. “So the change in strategy [from Trump] is things that will reduce pocketbook costs for average voters.”

While many of the Democratic candidates for president focus on broad solutions to health costs — “Medicare for All,” a public option or expanded Medicare — Trump is looking to exploit an opening.

“While everyone is debating Medicare for All, there has been this change. Average voters ... are less focused on whether we should have an entirely new health system. [Trump] has responded to that,” Blendon said.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in April found that 68 percent of respondents said Congress should focus on lowering prescription drug costs, and 50 percent said protecting people from surprise medical bills should be a top priority for lawmakers.

Meanwhile, only 31 percent said Medicare for All should be a top goal for Congress, followed by 27 percent who want lawmakers to prioritize repealing and replacing ObamaCare.

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said Trump can argue that he alone is trying to lower health costs, because Democrats are preventing Congress from acting.

“His goal is very simple: Convince voters he wants to protect pre-existing condition protections, and drive down costs,” O’Connell said. “Trump knows he’s behind on the issue.”

O’Connell added that right now, it doesn’t even matter if the administration’s efforts succeed.

“He is building a narrative. It’s great if costs come down, but that’s not the focus,” O’Connell said.

Kayleigh McEnany, national press secretary for the Trump campaign, said the president’s health care message will focus on his efforts to lower the costs of premiums and prescription drugs while expanding access to non-ObamaCare plans.

“While President Trump works toward achieving quality and affordable healthcare for all Americans, including protecting those with preexisting conditions, Democrats are embracing a radical socialist vision for healthcare that would harm Americans all across the nation,” McEnany said in a statement.

Trump will also highlight the fact that many Democrats running for president support Medicare for All, which would move the U.S. to a single-payer system managed by the government.

But Trump’s shift comes with some political risks. Polls regularly show voters trust Democrats on health care more than Republicans. 

And Democrats will remind voters about Trump’s record on abortion and LGBTQ health care, as well as the administration’s backing of a lawsuit aimed at dismantling ObamaCare.

“You see this deep political vulnerability that Republicans are feeling on health care. The president is nibbling around the edges, trying to seek for some type of political cover,” said Brad Woodhouse, executive director of the pro-ObamaCare group Protect Our Care, referencing the administration’s efforts around price transparency and surprise billing. 

In court, the Trump administration is siding with Republican attorneys general, led by Texas, who say the entire 2010 law should be invalidated.

“You know the biggest surprise bill the American people will ever see? It will be the eradication of the Affordable Care Act by the Trump-Texas lawsuit,” Woodhouse said.  

Democrats hammered Republicans on health care to help them win back the House in 2018, and lawmakers say it will help them win the White House in 2020. 

“Americans are hip to what Trump is doing to the health care system. That’s why the Democrats are in charge of the House of Representatives,” said Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyBacklash erupts at video depicting Trump killing media, critics Congress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds Administration to give 'top secret' briefing on Syria amid pushback MORE (D-Conn.). “I understand Republicans are going to desperately try to get well on the issue of health care after they spent two years trying to steal it from tens of millions of Americans. I just don’t think it’s going to work.”

Meanwhile, Trump has tried to argue that he has improved ObamaCare and will roll out a new health care plan in about two months.

“We’ve managed it much better than they’ve managed it, so we made it serviceable, but it’s not great,” Trump said in a recent interview with ABC. 

During a speech at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to the Majority conference on Wednesday, Trump also promised a new health care plan.

“If we win the House back, keep the Senate and keep the presidency, we’ll have a plan that blows away ObamaCare,” Trump said.