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Biden’s claim that Trump is ‘pushing to slash Medicare benefits’

The explanation from the Biden campaign was also surprising, So let’s explore this claim in detail. It’s an interesting and complex story.

The Facts

The Biden campaign explained that this line hinged on the fact that President Trump is backing a lawsuit that would nullify the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The Trump administration filed a legal brief on June 25 asking the Supreme Court to strike down the entire law, joining with a group of GOP state attorneys general who argue that the ACA is unconstitutional. The court will hear arguments in the case, known as California v. Texas, on Nov. 10.

The case hinges on the fact that Trump’s 2017 tax law in effect eliminated the ACA’s individual mandate penalty by reducing it to zero. Without the mandate, the whole law should fall, rather than just individual portions, the plaintiffs argue. Trump decided to embrace that argument, rather than say that if one part of the law was unconstitutional, the other parts of the law could survive.

In an effort to reduce the number of people in the United States without health insurance, the ACA set up an insurance-market exchange and provided subsidies to help people buy individual insurance. The law also greatly expanded Medicaid, the health-care program for the poor. To help pay for this, the law also made adjustments to Medicare, mostly big cuts in payments to Medicare providers and a hike in the payroll tax for wealthy taxpayers.

Separately, the law added a handful of additional benefits for people on Medicare, primarily a gradual closing of the coverage gap — “the doughnut hole” — in the Medicare Part D program when coverage ceased for prescription drugs once a limit was reached.

The law also provided some free or reduced cost-sharing for some preventive services, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, as well as a free annual wellness visit. Private insurance plans known as Medicare Advantage also could no longer charge higher cost-sharing amounts than traditional fee-for-service Medicare for certain services, including skilled-nursing facility care, chemotherapy and kidney dialysis.

A Supreme Court amicus brief by AARP, the interest group for the elderly, cited an estimate that 40.1 million people took advantage of at least one Medicare preventive service with no co-pays or deductibles in 2016, while more than 10.3 million Medicare beneficiaries took advantage of an annual wellness visit.

The Biden campaign argues that it’s fair to say that Medicare benefits would be slashed because if the whole law fell, these benefits would disappear, as would every other part of the law.

First of all, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, signed by Trump, sped up closure of the doughnut hole and, as of 2020, there is no longer a coverage gap. Four experts, both inside and outside Congress, told us that even if the ACA was repealed, the doughnut-hole closure is done and cannot be reversed.

(A discordant note was offered by Juliette Cubanski, deputy director of the Program on Medicare Policy at

Trump advisers consult scientists pushing disputed herd immunity strategy

Mainstream medical and public health experts say that seeking widespread, or herd, immunity in the manner the scientists prescribe could result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands or even millions more U.S. residents.

The trio, who Azar described as “three distinguished infectious disease experts,” favors moving aggressively to reopen the economy while sidelining broad testing and other fundamental public health measures. “Three months, maybe six is sufficient time for enough immunity to accumulate … that the vulnerable could resume normal lives,” Gupta said Monday night in appearance on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show.

That aligns with the “herd-immunity” strategy endorsed by Atlas, who Bhattacharya said was their “point of contact” for the meeting. Atlas, a neuroradiologist and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, has emerged as a favored adviser to the president despite his lack of expertise in public health, infectious disease or epidemiology, and his skepticism of basic safety measures like wearing masks.

HHS refused to comment on the scientists’ meeting with Azar and Atlas’ role in it, or whether the Trump administration is shifting to a herd immunity strategy.

Studies by the CDC and academic scientists have concluded that fewer than 10 percent of Americans had antibodies to the virus by July. That’s far fewer than the 60 to 70 percent infection rate most experts believe is needed to achieve herd immunity. They say that getting there without a vaccine would dramatically increase the Covid-19 death toll and leave a large number of Americans with lasting health problems.

Given those facts, Azar’s tweet set off alarm bells among public health experts worried that the administration is pushing a return to normal life before the virus is contained or a vaccine is available.

“This is not a good faith attempt to talk to experts. This is an attempt to cherry pick credentialed people who happen to agree with the administration’s political instincts or political inclinations,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, a former Obama administration official who oversaw disaster response.

The scientists who met with Azar have repeatedly advanced questionable theories about the virus’ risks and the impact of lockdowns.

Bhattacharya co-authored a study with colleagues at Stanford that suggested the coronavirus infection rate was up to 85 percent higher in Silicon Valley than previously estimated, suggesting that the virus was not nearly deadly enough to justify continued lockdowns.

The analysis, released in April without undergoing peer review, quickly came under attack from other scientists who questioned the accuracy of the antibody test used in the study, and the authors’ research methods — which included recruiting participants through Facebook and social contacts of the scientists, raising the risk of an unrepresentative sample.

Bhattacharya and his colleagues revised the study’s findings just two weeks after they released it, reducing their projection of how many people had been infected by one-third.

Across the pond, Gupta and colleagues in her Oxford research group opposed the stringent lockdown orders the U.K. imposed in March, arguing at the time that “the death rate or the