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The Daily 202: Trump tries frantically to make up lost ground with seniors, promising free medicine and checks

Other polls released over the last week show Biden leading among voters 65 and older, including in the battlegrounds of Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Pew’s survey was in the field from Wednesday, the day after the first presidential debate, through Monday, the day Trump checked himself out of Walter Reed after his three-night stay in the hospital. Pew’s unusually large sample size of 10,543 registered voters means smaller margins of error for subgroups, which allows for deeper analysis.

Trump and many of his top advisers see his weakness among seniors as an existential threat to his hopes for a second term, and the president is demanding that his aides use all the levers of the federal government to woo older voters who have drifted away during the final 25 days of the campaign.

The president tweeted a two-and-a-half minute video Thursday afternoon of himself speaking directly to seniors, whom he referred to as “MY FAVORITE PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.”

“I’m a senior,” the 74-year-old said to the camera. “I know you don’t know that. Nobody knows that. Maybe you don’t have to tell them, but I’m a senior.”

Trump said he was “very sick” when he went to the hospital, but the experimental antibody treatment he received helped him feel better immediately. He promised that he’s going to make sure that other seniors can also access the medicine he got by pushing the FDA to immediately authorize its emergency use. 

“They like to say ‘the vulnerable,’ but you’re the least vulnerable, but for this one thing, you are vulnerable. And so am I. But I want you to get the same care that I got,” Trump said. “You’re going to get the same medicine, you’re going to get it free, no charge, and we’re going to get it to you soon. … All free! … I do know what I’m doing. The seniors are going to be taken care of, and then everybody is going to be taken care of.”

Assuming the medication gets approved for wider use, doctors say there will not be enough doses to make it widely available and note that there are potentially significant side effects. Just as importantly, Trump cannot distribute any medicine free of charge unless he agrees to a coronavirus relief deal with Congress, something he has sent mixed messages about all week. Evan Hollander, a spokesman for the Democratic majority on the House Appropriations Committee, said Trump is lying: “Without new legislation, the Trump administration cannot make covid-19 treatment available for free.” 

About 4 in 5 of the 212,000 Americans killed by the coronavirus have been over the age of 65. This group is less antsy about getting workers back into offices or kids back into school. Many seniors have sacrificed a great deal, foregoing time with loved ones to avoid potential exposure to a virus they know is more likely to kill them.

After temporarily halting negative ads against Trump while he was hospitalized, the Biden campaign unveiled several new

Verma, Meadows push to finalize $200 drug-card plan for seniors by Election Day

Caught by surprise by President Donald Trump’s promise to deliver drug-discount cards to seniors, health officials are scrambling to get the nearly $8 billion plan done by Election Day, according to five officials and draft documents obtained by POLITICO.



a person posing for the camera: Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


© Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The taxpayer-funded plan, which was only announced two weeks ago and is being justified inside the White House and the health department as a test of the Medicare program, is being driven by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, the officials said. The administration is seeking to finalize the plan as soon as Friday and send letters to 39 million Medicare beneficiaries next week, informing seniors of Trump’s new effort to lower their drug costs, although many seniors would not receive the actual cards until after the election.

The $200 cards — which would resemble credit cards, would need to be used at pharmacies and could be branded with a reference to Trump himself — would be paid for by tapping Medicare’s trust fund.

“The goal is to begin the test by distributing cards starting in October 2020,” according to a draft proposal circulated within the White House last week and obtained by POLITICO.

Career civil servants have raised concerns about the hasty plan and whether it is politically motivated, particularly after Verma pushed Medicare officials to finalize the plan before the Nov. 3 election, said two officials.

The plan to lower seniors’ drug costs comes as administration officials grapple with Trump’s falling support among older Americans, a significant threat to his re-election. Trump is currently lagging challenger Joe Biden by as much as 27 points in recent polls among Americans ages 65 and older, a major reversal from the 2016 campaign, with seniors now voicing concerns about Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and his chaotic leadership style.

“This has nothing to do with politics. It’s good policy and demonstrates the president is continuing to deliver on his promises to our nation’s seniors,” said Judd Deere, a White House spokesperson. The White House did not make Meadows available for an interview.

CMS did not make Verma available for interviews and declined comment.

Democrats have dismissed the cards as a “gimmick” that will do little to achieve Trump’s 2016 campaign pledge of lowering drug prices.

“It’s a shameless stunt that steals billions from Medicare in order to fund a legally dubious scheme that’s clearly intended to benefit President Trump’s campaign right before Election Day,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee.

The administration previously ordered that Trump’s name appear on millions of stimulus checks sent out by the IRS this spring, which Democrats have alleged was an effort for the president to take credit for a congressional relief package.

Trump abruptly announced the drug-discount cards on Sept. 24, a last-minute decision that surprised even some of his own

More seniors to seek online help

A senior signing up for Medicare.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Open enrollment season for Medicare enrollees can sometimes be overwhelming because of the wide variety of choices.

The average senior will have 47 different health plans to choose from for 2021, according to the Trump administration, up 20% from last year. 

In most years, the majority of seniors turn to independent brokers and insurance agents for help trying to figure out which plan will work best for them. 

“In our focus groups, people said it’s kind of nice to have an agent who can walk you through the options and steer you toward a certain plan,” said Tricia Neuman, executive director of the Kaiser Family Foundation program on Medicare policy. But, she adds, “it’s much harder this year just because people are mostly home.”

With Covid-19 cases rising across the country, seniors are reluctant to seek help in person this year. In states with big surges, just 9% of Medicare recipients said they plan to meet with a broker in person this year, according to a consumer survey by health insurance consulting firm Deft Research. Two-thirds plan to seek advice on the phone, it said. 

Medicare insurer Humana said it will offer socially distanced, in-person appointments with agents, “based on the guidance of local health officials,” according to a company press release. Rival UnitedHealth Group is moving its enrollment efforts online.  

“We hold a lot of community meetings across the country during open enrollment … (but) we’re expecting to do many more of those in a virtual setting,” said Tim Noel, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Medicare and Retirement plans. He said Zoom-style meetings have been popular with brokers and seniors. “It’s similar to what we’re seeing in telehealth.”

Online health insurance brokerages are expecting they’ll see a surge in demand for phone consults when Medicare open enrollment begins later this month. They have been expanding their staffing over the summer, shifting their agents from call centers to systems at home, and retooling their websites.

“We’re going to try to leverage technology as much as possible to the process to make things more efficient … with things like voice signatures for people completing and application, and DocuSign capability in multiple languages that allow our brokers to complete sales without having to interact in a face-to-face environment,” said Clint Jones, co-founder and CEO of GoHealth.

To help streamline phone discussions with its brokers, eHealth is launching a new customer center where Medicare enrollees can create a secure permanent profile with information about their current health plan, doctors and medications to help make comparing new plan options easier.

“We obviously didn’t know when we were building this that we’d be launching it right at a time when seniors are starting to get more comfortable shopping online and being less comfortable with physical meetings,” said eHealth CEO Scott Flanders. 

While seniors can’t start signing up for new plans until Oct. 15, they can browse plan options now. Like the online brokers, the Trump administration

Award-Winning Alignment Healthcare Expands Plans & Benefits, Available to 5.9 Million Seniors This Medicare Enrollment Season

Medicare Advantage company offers seniors new 24/7 virtual care plan, new social benefits such as pet-sitting, acupuncture and personal emergency response systems

Alignment Healthcare, a mission-based Medicare Advantage insurance company founded in 2013, announced today new plans and benefits to give seniors more care options during Medicare’s annual enrollment period for 2021, which runs Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, 2020. Through Alignment Health Plan, the company is offering 36 Medicare Advantage options in three states, including a virtual-first health plan that includes a $50 monthly premium rebate, as well as a host of new benefits such as pet-sitting, pest control and acupuncture to ensure their social and lifestyle needs are met.

Seniors are increasingly turning to Alignment each year due to its “senior first” model, which earned Alignment numerous accolades including the 2020 Senior Choice Gold Award and 2020 U.S. News & World Report “Best Insurance Companies for Medicare Advantage” recognition.

“As more Americans enter their senior years, it is critical for us to continue providing not only the best of clinical outcomes but also the best customer experience that seniors need and deserve,” said John Kao, founder and CEO, Alignment Healthcare. “Our new plans and benefits reflect the innovation and compassion that sets Alignment apart as we continue to grow and serve seniors nationwide.”

Among Alignment Health Plan’s 14 new plan offerings available starting Jan. 1, 2021, is the AVA™ HMO plan, a virtual-first plan that gives members a dedicated primary care provider and specialists – accessible by phone or video on the company’s proprietary AVA™ data and technology platform – as well as providers available in person to see the patient at home or in the doctor’s office as needed. The virtual plan also comes with a monthly $50 premium rebate and $100 per month over-the-counter credit, redeemable at Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and other retailers.

In addition to this virtual option, Alignment is offering new HMO dual-eligible special needs and HMO point-of-service plans. In select plans, Alignment is introducing new benefits as part of its ACCESS On-Demand Concierge program for eligible members to address social needs such as food instability, loneliness and lack of transportation, that directly impact clinical outcomes. In 2021, new social benefits include pet sitting, pest control, personal emergency response systems, and acupuncture services to further extend the program’s existing benefits such as grocery allowance, non-emergency clinical transportation and “grandkids on demand” companion care.

“Putting the seniors first is what we do each day at Alignment,” said Dawn Maroney, president of consumer and markets, Alignment Healthcare. “That’s why around COVID-19, we delivered thousands of masks and meals, hosted virtual town hall meetings to answer questions, and proactively checked in on our highest-risk members. We bring this same spirit to open enrollment. No matter which plan they choose, Alignment members have a dedicated 24/7 care and support team available to create the best outcomes and experience for each and every one of them.”

Alignment announced in August its expansion into new counties and new