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Details on Trump's $200 cards for Medicare users scarce and conflicted

(Reuters) - The Trump administration’s planned distribution of $200 benefit cards to Medicare recipients will take place over the next few months, with not all beneficiaries receiving one before the Nov. 3 presidential election, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official said on Friday.

U.S. President Donald Trump Trump disembarks from Air Force One as he arrives on campaign travel at Dobbins Air Force Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, U.S., September 25, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner

President Donald Trump said on Thursday that 33 million Medicare beneficiaries would “soon receive a card in the mail” to help pay for prescription drugs. Nearly 60 million people are enrolled in Medicare, the U.S. federal health insurance program for older people and the disabled.

The cards will be sent out as soon as mechanically possible, the senior Health and Human Services official told reporters.

Details on the program remain scarce, including which Medicare users would receive them. The administration has offered varied explanations for how the $6.6 billion program would be funded, or what, exactly, is being offered.

A White House official said the cards would be discount cards for co-pays of prescription drugs.

A Sept. 13 executive order requiring the health secretary to ensure Medicare users receive the “most favored nation” price for certain drugs, or tie the pricing of them to the lower prices paid in other countries, would provide the savings to issue these cards, the official said.

However, any rules that would provide that pricing have not yet been instituted or finalized.

The senior health department official said details on the funding for the $200 cards were still being worked out.

The executive order has been met with a tepid response from the healthcare sector.

“As we’ve previously said, one-time savings cards will neither provide lasting help, nor advance the fundamental reforms necessary to help seniors better afford their medicines,” a spokesperson for PhRMA, a pharmaceutical industry group, said in an email.

Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden is making inroads among senior voters, particularly in must-win Florida, where more than a fifth of residents are over the age of 65.

According to Reuters national polling data, Biden and Trump are virtually tied among voters 65 and up. Trump won seniors by seven points in 2016.

Larry Levitt, the executive vice president for health policy at the health non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation, said the “most favored nation” executive orders issued earlier this year were merely aspirational, since they require actual regulations to be formulated and issued.

The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to void the Affordable Care Act, which added millions to the healthcare safety net and was passed under President Barack Obama.

Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru and Michael Erman in New York; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Joseph Ax in New York; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown