Two weeks ago, Donald Trump tried to shore up his crumbling poll numbers among older voters by promising he'd send virtually everyone on Medicare a beautiful $200 gift card that could be used to offset their out-of-pocket costs for prescription meds. As with so many of Trump's brilliant schemes, that came as a complete surprise to just about everyone in government who had to suddenly create a big new benefit out of thin air, and Politico yesterday ran a jaw-whompering look at the last-minute scramble to get the benefit in place before the election, although it's not clear the cards themselves will actually arrive in the remaining three and a half weeks.

But when Dear Leader has a bug up his ass about something, his underlings can work wonders, so now there's a plan in place to send out letters next week to the 39 million Medicare beneficiaries who'll be getting the cards, to let them know Trump cares about them. At least when he's not calling for coronavirus policies that put their lives in danger. And the administration even came up with a way to pay for the roughly $8 billion program without getting an appropriation from Congress: Just dip into the Medicare trust fund, which is like free money, and if that leaves Medicare short of funds down the road, that'll be some later president's problem, suckers.


The roll-out of the drug cards is being overseen by Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and by Trump's Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and they have been very busy! The two even retroactively created a rationale for the giveaway, so it would be a serious benefit for seniors, not a transparent last-minute giveaway aimed at getting votes. They're calling it

a "test" of whether the cards encourage Medicare beneficiaries to more regularly take their medicine while lowering their costs, using what is known as Section 402 authority.

See? Very serious research here, folks! Never mind that there's no formal research design or control group or pilot program or anything. Like a five-year-old mooshing everything they can find in the kitchen into a mixing bowl, it's a 'speriment.

Hilariously, Politico reports all this as if there were any question about the intent of the drug discount card program:

Career civil servants have raised concerns about the hasty plan and whether it is politically motivated, particularly after Verma pushed Medicare officials to finalize the plan before the Nov. 3 election, said two officials. [...]

"This has nothing to do with politics. It's good policy and demonstrates the president is continuing to deliver on his promises to our nation's seniors," said Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson.

Concerns about whether it's politically motivated? What a crazy idea! It's merely a token of how much Donald Trump loves older voters, and proof that he's followed through — at the tail end of his first term — on his pledge to bring down prescription drug costs. And please don't say anything about the collapse of a potential deal with the pharma industry that might actually have resulted in broader savings. Especially because that deal fell apart when Meadows pushed for the industry to pay for a similar drug benefit card. The pharma negotiators refused to go along with it because it was such an obvious political scheme, which they derided as a "Trump card" plan.

But now the plan's rolling right along, although Politico says it still hasn't been decided whether Trump's name will be on the cards themselves (haha, that means the only thing yet to be determined is how big the font will be).

The taxpayer-funded plan would cost $7.9 billion, including about $51 million to create and distribute the cards, and it would allow seniors to use the cards to help cover a portion of their out-of-pocket expenses for up to two years. The government would also spend $19 million sending letters to seniors this month that tout the plan, according to the draft proposal. Officials are still discussing whether that letter will come from Trump himself, said two officials.

That's a very good use of taxpayer money to try to get Trump reelected, as long as you pretend it's a "test program."

A draft proposal obtained by Politico said "The goal is to begin the test by distributing cards starting in October 2020," because it's a serious test, you see, very serious stuff. Insiders made clear, however, that — and we hope you're sitting down — it was definitely all about giving Trump something he could point to as an accomplishment before the election:

But inside the administration, four officials said that Trump and his advisers were searching for proposals to tout as health care accomplishments and latched onto the drug-discount cards just hours before the president's scheduled [September 24] address, leaving the health department scrambling to justify the idea.

"We basically didn't know until the public found out too," said one health official who's been consulted on trying to turn Trump's proclamation into policy.

"It's turning into this last-minute, thrown-together thing," said another HHS official involved in the effort.

Trump/Pence 2020: Promises Made, Half-Assed Schemes Rolled Out At The Last Minute!

Politico notes that Verma has been working closely with Meadows to pull a drug discount card out of the administration's ass in a remarkably short time, and that she's completely on board with paying for it with money from the Medicare trust fund, even though that's a reversal of her previous opposition to using the trust fund for anything other than its intended purpose:

Verma has repeatedly warned that the fund, which is largely paid for by taxes and Medicare premiums and used to cover seniors' health care, is at risk and insisted that it should be protected from political priorities like Democrats' push for universal health care.

"The Medicare Trustees report projects the Medicare trust fund will run out by 2026," Verma said in a speech last year. "Medicare for All advocates say they want free health care, but in the end, someone's always picking up the tab. In this case, it's American taxpayers."

But you have to understand that this is way different from tapping the trust fund for universal health care, because getting Trump reelected is important.

And Crom knows Trump is desperate to stop losing support from older voters; in two recent polls, Joe Biden leads Trump by more than 20 percentage points among voters aged 65 and older. It's almost as if they noticed Trump and his supporters keep wanting to push them out on an ice floe so the economy will improve. Operation Bamboozle Gramma Minnie still needs some fine tuning, it seems.

Next up, a "test program" to determine whether closing all polling places in cities with mostly Democratic voters will encourage job growth.

[Politico / Axios]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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