In part of his extensive, wide-ranging interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, President Trump again called Obamacare a disaster and said he plans to release a new health care plan in the coming weeks:
“If we win back the House, we're going to produce phenomenal health care. And we already have the concept of the plan, but it'll be less expensive than Obamacare by a lot. And it'll be much better health care,” Trump said.
“Don't you have to tell people what the plan is?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“Yeah, well, we'll be announcing that in about two months. Maybe less,” Trump responded. “So, yeah, sure you do. But -- but, again, that's -- that's subject to winning back the House, Senate and the presidency. You need the three. …”
Later in the interview, Trump returned to the point, saying that “people hate Obamacare. It’s too expensive, it’s not good, but if we win the House, we win the Senate, we win the presidency. You’re going have the greatest healthcare that anybody’s ever had.”
A familiar refrain: This isn’t the first time Trump has talked about an exciting new health care plan that is just about ready for release. Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News said Monday that “this is at least the third time in the past few months POTUS has promised a new health plan ‘soon.’” Republicans have been talking about repealing and replacing Obamacare since the day it passed, and Trump touted a new plan that would “take care of everybody” at lower cost during his presidential run. But Republicans have been unable to fulfill either of those promises, despite controlling both Congress and the White House for two years.
Why bring it up again? Trump is looking for a way to neutralize a Democratic advantage ahead of the 2020 election, Peter Baker, Michael Tackett and Linda Qiu of The New York Times reported Sunday. Polls show that voters trust Democrats more on health care, and protections for people with pre-existing conditions have played an important role in the debate over Obamacare repeal, to Democrats’ advantage. Touching on a sore spot from the 2018 midterm elections, Trump told Stephanopoulos that he is “very much for preexisting conditions” and that people with existing health problems will not be charged more for health insurance. “Under my plan, [the costs will] be much lower,” the president said.
But Republicans are leery: The release of a concrete health care plan would carry big risks for Republicans, who have so far been unable to articulate a proposal that provides universal coverage at a lower cost than Obamacare. “The president has repeatedly promised something better than the A.C.A. but has never come up with a plan himself, and the congressional plans he endorsed were definitely not better for everyone,” the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt told the Times. “When it comes to health care, the challenge has been that the president has not only avoided proposing a specific plan, but has made promises that no plan could ever fulfill.”
Given the political risks, many Republican lawmakers would prefer that Trump avoid the issue. At the same time, Democrats would no doubt welcome a renewed focus on health care, which they see as one of the key issues that enabled them to take control of the House in 2018.
Will there ever be Trump health care plan? Senior administration officials told ABC News that the White House is still far from having a comprehensive plan, and that the focus is currently on drafting a set of “high-level principles” that can provide direction for some future legislative package.
This suggests that the latest presidential promise of a comprehensive new plan is likely “the policy equivalent of vaporware,” as The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman put it Monday. Nevertheless, the president is looking for some kind of health care initiative he can point to during the 2020 election. There’s a good chance, then, that the White House or Republican lawmakers will put forth a set of proposals related to health care in the next few months, though likely one that is limited in scope and ambition, with an emphasis on controlling costs within the existing system.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), a medical doctor and one of three senators reportedly working on a GOP health care bill, told the Daily Beast last week that he has been talking to the White House about surprise medical billing, an issue that could gain bipartisan support – and provide Trump with a health care win, however small. “He wants results,” Barrasso said of the president. “He wants to be able to point to a success.”