Trump Medicare Drug Discount Cards May Get a Second Life

The Trump administration’s plan to send $200 drug discount cards to Medicare beneficiaries has found new life after clearing an important regulatory hurdle. Some doubt remains whether the cards will in fact be mailed to seniors in January.

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After some delay, the $200 prescription drug discount cards that President Trump promised to Medicare beneficiaries may be brought back to life after all. 

In late September, Trump announced at a campaign rally in Charlotte, NC that Medicare beneficiaries would receive $200 debit cards to use toward prescription drug copays and coinsurance. The cards were part of the administration’s America First Healthcare Plan.

Prescription drug cards initially delayed

Trump’s plan hit legal and logistical snags and all but disappeared from public eye through the remainder of the presidential election. But one of these initial hurdles was finally cleared on December 14 when the Special Interest Group for Inventory Information Approval System Standards (SIGIS) approved the plan. 

SIGIS is a not-for-profit advisory panel that assists the federal government in matters of electronic point-of-sale transactions. After initially blocking the Trump administration’s plans for the $200 discount cards, the group lent its approval for the mass production of millions of debit cards.

Trump’s plan includes sending cards to nearly 33 million Medicare beneficiaries who have prescription drug coverage through Medicare Part D or Medicare Advantage plans starting in the beginning of January 2021. 

More regulatory hurdles remain 

While SIGIS approval allows the discount card plan to advance, it isn’t in the clear just yet.

The White House positioned the plan as a legally authorized “test” of the Medicare program in order to gain approval. But such tests, or “demonstrations,” must be approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers Medicare. Some drug policy researchers have questioned whether or not Trump’s plan meets the standards required for such an approval from the CMS. 

Another obstacle for the plan is White House turnover. The Biden administration will not be implementing the America First Healthcare Plan drafted by the Trump team and is unlikely to support the use of the drug discount cards. It also remains unclear if the cards could be sent before the Jan. 20 inauguration. The White House has said it plans for the cards to be sent out by January 1.  

The estimated cost, $7.9 billion, has been a cause of concern for some politicians and pundits, given other government spending priorities surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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