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President Donald Trump on Thursday evening signed a series of executive orders which he said constituted part of a long-promised health care plan.
Speaking before a crowd in Charlotte, N.C., Trump said that his plan would would offer “better care, with more choice, at a much lower cost, and working to ensure that Americans have access to the care they need.” He detailed a set of concrete policy goals: affordable insurance, cutting prescription drug costs, ending surprise billing, increasing price transparency, and protecting patients with preexisting conditions.
How the administration will achieve those goals, however, remains unclear. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar told reporters earlier in the day that the orders would make it the “policy of the United States” that individuals will not be denied insurance coverage on the basis of preexisting conditions, and calls on Congress to produce legislation to that effect. Absent such legislation, Azar would be required to investigate regulatory alternatives—although what those would be remains undefined.
Text of an Executive Order released Thursday evening is similarly light on details. The order establishes preexisting condition coverage as official policy of the United States, alongside “more choice, lower costs, and better care.” It instructs the secretaries of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services to find ways to pursue these goals, including calling on Congress to end surprise billing. The order’s sole concrete action requires Azar to add information about hospital billing quality to Medicare.gov’s Hospital Compare service.
“The president will protect people with pre-existing conditions, end surprise billing, drive down prescription drug prices, help seniors pay for medicine, and provide affordable insulin and EpiPens for low-income Americans,” Tim Murtaugh, Trump campaign communications director, said in a statement. “This builds on his record of success in healthcare, which includes reducing Obamacare premiums for the first time, eliminating the unfair Obamacare individual mandate, expanding healthcare choice, enacting Right to Try legislation, and making real progress in reducing the price of prescription drugs.”
Trump’s order comes just weeks before the eight-man Supreme Court will hear a lawsuit, brought by a bevy of states, contending that the Affordable Care Act is now unconstitutional after Republicans removed its tax on those without insurance as part of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Judicial repeal of Obamacare would remove the law’s ban on denying coverage on the basis of preexisting conditions—an outcome Trump’s executive order seems meant to avert.
Trump’s “America First Healthcare Plan” is also meant as a counterstrike to 2020 opponent Joe Biden, whose own health care proposal has been available for much of the campaign. Biden’s plan would seek to implement a public option—a scrapped component of the original Affordable Care Act—as well as enhance the minimum quality of Obamacare exchange plans in what, one health care expert previously told the Washington Free Beacon, would amount to a substantial handout to insurance companies.