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Trump tries to stoke senior citizens' fear with attack on Democrats' 'Medicare for all' proposals as GOP faces midterm onslaught over health care

CNBC International 2018-10-10 20:00:00
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters President Donald Trump delivers remarks on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 1, 2018.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday attacked "Medicare for all" proposals pushed by progressives and supported by many Democrats, claiming the plan would "end Medicare as we know it" and setting up another political battlefield ahead of the November midterm elections.

In the op-ed penned for USA Today, Trump claimed "Democrats would gut Medicare with their planned government takeover of American health care," by eliminating seniors' private options to supplement their Medicare coverage and outlawing all other private and employer-based health insurance plans.

The column comes as Democrats have increasingly put Republicans on their heels over health care policy ahead of the pivotal Nov. 6 elections, when control of both chambers of Congress hangs in the balance.

Multiple proposals exist in Congress to enact some form of a single-payer, government-run health insurance program that would cover nearly all Americans. Trump's article, however, mainly targets a sweeping proposal from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who ran for president in 2016 as a Democrat.

Trump's op-ed leaves Medicare-for-all proponents' promises almost entirely unaddressed, asserting instead that they would "take away benefits that seniors have paid for their entire lives" and that "today's Medicare would be forced to die." Sanders' bill would actually provide more generous Medicare coverage to the millions of Americans who already have it, The New York Times reported, expanding to include dental and vision coverage, and hearing aids.

The Trump op-ed also claims that "Democrats have already harmed seniors by slashing Medicare by more than $800 billion over 10 years to pay for Obamacare." A Washington Post analysis of the same claim, made in August by a pro-GOP political action committee, rated the claim false — and pointed out that congressional Republicans have proposed further cuts to Medicare.

GOP tries to flip the script

The salvo against Democrats' "menacing" health care goals was published less than a month out from the midterms, and is explicitly directed at seniors who have historically shown high levels of support for the over-65 health insurance plan.

As they try to flip the 23 GOP-held seats needed to take a House majority, Democrats have hammered Republicans over health care. The party has criticized not only GOP efforts that could imperil the popular coverage for pre-existing conditions, but also contended that Republicans could trim Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits to make up for budget deficits generated by their tax cuts passed last year.

The president's column marks only the latest attempt by the GOP to turn Democrats' arguments against them as they face the prospect of losing House control and push to expand their Senate majority. His column also cited Democratic border security proposals in claiming, without evidence, that Democrats are "radical socialists who want to model America's economy after Venezuela," which has been battered by crippling inflation.

Trump's arguments about health care echo GOP candidates around the country. For instance, GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher — fighting to keep his important California 49th District seat — recently ran an ad saying "I'm taking on both parties and fighting for those with pre-existing conditions." The representative voted last year for his party's Affordable Care Act repeal plan, which was expected to lead to an estimated 23 million more Americans uninsured and could have undermined pre-existing conditions coverage. It never became law as the Senate failed to pass a repeal plan.

A pivotal lawsuit

In addition, 20 states — including two represented by Republican attorneys general trying to win pivotal Senate races in November — sued the federal government this year, arguing Obamacare is unconstitutional without the individual mandate provision the GOP scrapped last year as part of the tax plan. If they win their argument, the provision banning insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions would also be unconstitutional.

Though Trump claimed in the column that he has fought to protect people with pre-existing conditions, his administration declined to defend the Affordable Care Act in court against the litigation. With the move, the White House implicitly supported the lawsuit.

Various Democratic candidates have attacked Republicans over the suit. In the West Virginia Senate race, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has hit GOP challenger Patrick Morrisey, the state attorney general, for signing on to the lawsuit. In an ad released last month, Manchin uses a shotgun to blast sheets of paper reading "lawsuit on coverage of pre-existing conditions."

Manchin tweet

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley has also faced criticism for his involvement in the litigation as he tries to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Hawley has argued the government can enshrine pre-existing conditions coverage outside of the Obamacare structure.

Public opinion surveys have shown Manchin leading Morrisey, while McCaskill and Hawley are running neck-and-neck, according to RealClearPolitics polling averages.