President Donald Trump has put his vows to protect pre-existing conditions on paper with an executive order Thursday, announcing his "America First Healthcare Plan" in North Carolina.
"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, so we're making that official," Trump said, announcing his vision for healthcare as his administration fell short of repealing and replacing Obamacare in his first term.
"Our opponents, the Democrats, like to constantly talk about" healthcare, Trump added, "now we have it affirmed, this is affirmed, signed and done, so we can put that to rest."
The order covers a range of issues, including protecting people with pre-existing medical conditions from insurance discrimination.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., dismissively said Trump's "bogus executive order on pre-existing conditions isn't worth the paper it's signed on."
Trump spoke at an airport hangar in swing-state North Carolina to a crowd that included white-coated, mask-wearing healthcare workers. He stood on a podium in front of a blue background emblazoned with "America First Healthcare Plan."
Trump's three pillars of his health plan promise quality healthcare at affordable prices, lower prescription drug costs, more consumer choice, and greater price transparency. His executive order would also to try to end surprise medical bills.
"If we win we will have a better and less expensive plan that will always protect people with pre-existing conditions," Trump declared.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Trump's executive order would declare it the policy of the U.S. government to protect people with pre-existing conditions, even if Obamacare is declared unconstitutional. However, such protections are already the law, and Trump would have to go to Congress to cement a new policy.
On surprise billing, Azar said the president's order will direct him to work with Congress on legislation, and if there's no progress, move ahead with regulatory action. However, despite widespread support among lawmakers for ending surprise bills, the White House has been unable to forge a compromise that steers around determined lobbying by interest groups affected.
Trump said Medicare recipients will soon receive a card that they can use to save $200 on medications.
"I will always take care of our wonderful senior citizens," he promised.
More broadly, the number of uninsured Americans started edging up under Trump even before job losses in the economic shutdown to try to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Various studies have tried to estimate the additional coverage losses this year, but the most authoritative government statistics have a long time lag. Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation says his best guess is "several million."
Meanwhile, Trump is pressing the Supreme Court to invalidate the entire Obama health law, which provides coverage to more than 20 million people and protects Americans with medical problems from insurance discrimination. That case will be argued a week after Election Day.
Trump unveiled his agenda ahead of a two-day swing to several battleground states, including the all-important Florida. There, he held a rally in Jacksonville and later planned to court Latino voters at a roundtable in Doral on Friday. Then he will fly to Atlanta, Georgia, to deliver a speech on Black economic empowerment. He will end the day with another rally in Newport News, Virginia.
The scramble to show concrete accomplishments on healthcare comes as Trump is chafing under criticism that he never delivered a Republican alternative to Obamacare.
Trump had repeatedly insisted his plan would be coming.
"We've really become the healthcare party — the Republican Party," he said Thursday. "And nobody talks about that."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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