Trump’s Drug-Discount Cards Expected to Reach Medicare Recipients After Election

President Trump’s plan to send 33 million Medicare beneficiaries a card that can be used to help pay for as much as $200 in prescription drug costs won’t be completed until after the election, according to a person familiar with the plan.

The cards will be mailed in phases, with some likely going out later in October but most not until after the Nov. 3 presidential election, the person said. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is spending an estimated $20 million for administrative costs to print and send letters to Medicare beneficiaries informing them that they will be getting cards, the person said.

Plans for the overall drug-discount program have been sent to the Office for Management and Budget, the person said. It is unclear if or when the office will approve the program, which could cost $8 billion, the person said. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees Medicare designed for people 65 and older, is unable to say exactly when the cards will go out because the proposal is still at OMB. Beneficiaries will have two years to use the discount cards, the person said.

Low-income beneficiaries who don’t already get financial assistance for medications would likely get the cards, according to the person familiar with the planning, rather than everyone in Medicare Part D, which helps cover prescription drug costs for people 65 and older.

Mr. Trump surprised his own health-administration leaders on Sept. 24 when he announced the plan to mail out prescription drug cards. The discount cards were proposed by White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, said an administration official.

CMS officials rushed to figure out how the program could be structured and designed, according to two people familiar with the planning.

The proposed plan calls for funding the cards from two Medicare trust funds, according to the administration official. It would run out of a CMS office that tests new models for providing or paying for health care.

The program lets officials waive Medicare’s laws or standards to test if new initiatives increase efficiency and “economy of programs” without adversely affecting quality, according to CMS. These waiver programs have generally been required to show they won’t increase federal spending beyond what would have occurred without the test.

The drug-discount-card plan, for example, could be designed to test if people are more adherent to medications if they are given a discount, according to the administration official.

Democrats and other critics have said providing discounts doesn’t fit with the parameters or goals of the program, and they say it is unwise to tap the Medicare trust funds at the same time one of the funds is facing insolvency concerns.

Medicare is funded by two trust funds held by the U.S. Treasury. The trusts pay for hospital care and to administer the federal health-insurance program for people 65 and older and the disabled. They are funded through payroll taxes, income taxes paid on Social Security benefits and other sources.

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Virginia governor critical of Trump’s coronavirus response in first appearance since testing positive

About 65 staff members who had close contact with the Northams were told to self-isolate for two weeks. Northam said none tested positive, which he called “a testament” to the value of wearing masks.

He noted that masks protected several staff members who could not physically distance from him before he tested positive, including a press secretary, photographer and security detail who traveled in an SUV and airplane with Northam.

He contrasted that with the largely mask-free Rose Garden ceremony last month that Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, has called a superspreader event. Trump, first lady Melania Trump and several others subsequently tested positive for the virus.

“No masks, no social distancing — and look at the number of people that tested positive,” Northam said Tuesday, referring to the White House event. “We talk about science, it doesn’t get any clearer than that … I would remind every Virginian: Masks are scientifically proven to reduce the spread of this disease, plain and simple.”

Northam, a former Army doctor and pediatrician, said he and his wife’s symptoms were mild. He warned Virginians not to let down their guard, particularly as cooler fall temperatures and shrinking daylight hours make outdoor socializing less appealing.

The governor said he is unlikely to ease pandemic-related restrictions in the near term. He acknowledged pressure to return to in-person education at public schools, but urged continued caution.

“Numbers are going up in a number of states across this country, so we’re not out of the woods,” he said. “We’re nowhere close to being out of the woods.”

The greater Washington region on Tuesday reported 1,763 additional coronavirus cases and 20 new deaths. Virginia added 1,235 cases and 11 deaths, Maryland added 482 cases and nine deaths, and the District added 46 cases and no deaths.

Virginia’s daily caseload was above its rolling seven-day average, lifting that number to 1,089 — the state’s highest daily average since Aug. 13. The seven-day average in Northern Virginia rose Tuesday to 264 cases, a four-month high in the region.

Daily caseloads Tuesday in Maryland and the District were below their rolling seven-day averages. It’s the third consecutive day that both jurisdictions reported new infections at or below their recent average amid an uptick that began earlier this month.

The recent caseload rise across the region has coincided with an outbreak at the White House, although local health officials have said it’s unclear whether there’s a connection.

Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.

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