WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump tangled the facts when he asserted Tuesday at a White House Rose Garden event that “Obamacare” raised prescription drug costs for older people — the opposite is true.
Trump also misfired by taunting Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden for supposedly being soft on drug prices. Biden supports Medicare negotiations to lower prices, similar to what Trump called for as a Republican candidate in 2016 but later set aside.
The president was announcing a $35 monthly limit on insulin copays under Medicare.
TRUMP: “In the past, Obamacare prevented insurance providers from competing to offer lower costs for seniors. There was no competition, there was no anything, and they ran away with what took place, and the seniors were horribly hurt.”
THE FACTS: The Affordable Care Act actually reduced out-of-pocket prescription costs for seniors. Nor did it prevent insurers from competing to offer lower costs.
President Barack Obama’s law reduced what seniors had to pay back then by gradually closing the “doughnut hole,” a notorious coverage gap in Medicare’s popular “Part D” prescription drug plan.
A 50% discount that Obamacare secured from drug makers on brand name medicines yielded an average savings of $581 in 2011 for seniors with high drug costs, according to an analysis at the time by Medicare’s nonpartisan Office of the Actuary, for The Associated Press.
On top of that, the ACA directed Medicare to pick up more of the cost of generic drugs, saving an additional $22.
By tackling the coverage gap, Obama’s law helped Medicare recipients with high drug costs generally, not only those patients who must take insulin to manage their diabetes.
On Tuesday, Trump announced that next year most seniors would have access to prescription plans that limit monthly copays for insulin to $35, for an average savings of $446 annually.
On the claim that Obamacare stifled insurer competition, there’s no evidence that was the case.
“Given the large number of Medicare prescription drug plans available to seniors, it is not clear how the Obama administration prevented insurers from competing with each other,” said Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.
Neuman cited statistics for 2012, midway through the Obama years, when the average number of Medicare Part D drug plans ranged across regions from a low of 25 to a high of 36 — more than enough to facilitate healthy competition.
TRUMP: “So we’re getting it down — $35 per month … So it’s a massive cut — I guess, 60, 70%. Nobody has seen anything like this for a long time. Sleepy Joe can’t do this — that, I can tell you.”
THE FACTS: Actually, Biden wants to do much more. The Democratic presidential candidate supports allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with drug makers, restricting price increases to the inflation rate and limiting launch prices for new drugs that face no competition.
As a 2016 candidate, Trump had backed Medicare negotiations. But he has not pursued that idea as president, although the Congressional Budget Office estimated it could result in significant savings for taxpayers and consumers.
Congress is at an impasse over legislation to reduce drug costs, including a bipartisan Senate bill backed by Trump that would act to limit price increases for medicines already on the market. But it would not authorize Medicare to negotiate prices.