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Trump signs largely symbolic pre-existing conditions order amid lawsuit

President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE on Thursday signed a largely symbolic executive order aimed at protecting people with pre-existing conditions as he takes fire for a lawsuit seeking to overturn ObamaCare, which enacted those protections. 

“The historic action I am taking today includes the first-ever executive order to affirm it is the official policy of the United States government to protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” Trump said during a speech in North Carolina, a key swing state. “So we're making that official.”

Trump noted “our opponents, the Democrats, like to constantly talk about” health care and pre-existing conditions, but “now we have it affirmed, this is affirmed, signed and done.”

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The White House did not immediately release the text of the order, but from Trump and other officials’ descriptions it simply states that protecting people with pre-existing conditions is the policy of the government, something that does not have the force of law on its own. 

The Trump administration is backing a GOP-led lawsuit seeking to overturn all of ObamaCare, including the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions. If the Supreme Court does strike down the health law, a new law would still be required to replace the protections, despite Trump’s executive order. 

Trump also did not lay out the details of how he would protect people with pre-existing conditions. 

As Trump noted, Democrats have made attacks on the Trump-backed lawsuit a key part of the campaign as Election Day approaches, particularly noting that the death of Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgDemocrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Mitt Romney did not vote for Trump in 2020 election The Senate should evoke RBG in its confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett MORE now increases the odds that the Supreme Court will strike down the law. The Court will hear the case one week after Election Day, on Nov. 10. 

Democrats dismissed Trump’s order on Thursday as simply trying to cover up his record. 

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Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo On The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Overnight Health Care: CDC expands definition of 'close contact' after COVID-19 report | GOP coronavirus bill blocked in Senate | OxyContin maker agrees to B settlement with Trump administration MORE (D-Calif.) called it a “bogus executive order” and added: “If President Trump cared at all about people with pre-existing conditions, he would drop his lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic.”

Experts noted the lack of details in Trump’s comments and the limits of the legal authority of an executive order, when legislation would be required if ObamaCare is struck down. 

“President Trump has promised protections, but with no specific plan,” Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote on Twitter. 

Trump also laid out other aspects of his health care vision, including calling for an end to surprise medical bills and touting action to lower drug prices. 

Trump has proposed a range of potentially far-reaching actions to lower drug prices, from allowing importation of drugs from Canada to lowering Medicare drug prices to match prices paid in other countries, a policy known as “most-favored nation.” 

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But both of those proposals have not actually gone into effect yet, as they still require further steps in the rulemaking and policy implementation process. 

Trump announced he was also planning to mail $200 discount cards to Medicare beneficiaries to use for prescription drugs, a move that could try to boost his support with seniors ahead of the election. 

A White House official said the money would come from savings from the most-favored nation policy, but it is not clear how that would work given that policy has not yet gone into effect.  

Trump also pointed to previous actions like expanding skimpier, cheaper health plans called short-term plans. While those plans have lower premiums, they are allowed to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. 

Trump also supported an ObamaCare repeal and replacement bill in 2017 that would have allowed states to waive ObamaCare protections for people with pre-existing conditions, allowing sick people to be charged much higher premiums. 

Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida Supreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama MORE quickly tweeted a rejoinder to Trump’s speech, pointing to the lawsuit. 

“They are arguing to strip millions of Americans of health care in the middle of a pandemic,” Biden wrote. “We can't let him win.”