President Trump on Thursday signed an executive order giving a broader role to Medicare's private insurance option – as he vowed to protect the current system from Democratic presidential candidates' calls to enact “Medicare-for-all.”
Medicare itself remains popular, but the calls to enact a single-payer, government-run system for everyone are far more controversial. Signing the order at the Villages – a retirement community north of Orlando – Trump singled out Democrats he said want to “totally obliterate Medicare.”
“They want to raid Medicare to fund the idea of socialism,” Trump said. “All of the Democrats' plans would totally devastate our health care plans.”
Trump added, “Democratic health care proposals would put everyone into a single-payer, socialist government-run plan.”
The president’s criticism of the Democrats' plan was squarely aimed at the Medicare-for-all proposals of candidates like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Sanders’ “single-payer” approach would cover people of any age and would incorporate the Medicare program. Private health insurance, including the Medicare Advantage option used by about one-third of seniors, would no longer have a role.
Medicare Advantage, the private insurance option under Medicare, offers savings on premiums and an annual limit on out-of-pocket costs. They provide one-stop shopping, eliminating the need for separate supplemental insurance. Offered by major insurers, the plans also cover prescription drugs in most cases.
But there are trade-offs. Seniors joining a Medicare Advantage plan generally must accept limits on their choice of hospitals and doctors as well as prior insurer approval for certain procedures. If they change their minds and decide to return to traditional Medicare, they’re not always guaranteed supplemental “Medigap” coverage, which is also private.
Trump’s order directs his department to examine whether its current policies and practices put traditional Medicare ahead of the private Medicare Advantage option.
The order would seek to expand the range of additional services that can be offered by the private plans and would direct regulators to find more ways for seniors to financially benefit from plans that provide cost-efficient service.
Many Medicare Advantage insurers offer some dental and vision coverage, along with basics like transportation to medical appointments. But the industry lately has started to experiment with in-home assistance, including nutritious meals and financial help with safety-related home improvements.
Sanders, who underwent a heart procedure this week, has argued that Medicare-for-all would offer seniors broader benefits and lower costs. In a tweet on Wednesday, Sanders reiterated the support for his proposal and added that “no one should fear going bankrupt” because of a hospital trip.
"None of us know when a medical emergency might affect us. And no one should fear going bankrupt if it occurs. Medicare for All!"
Trump also took time during his speech to slam Democrats for opening an impeachment inquiry over a phone call the president had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in July. In it, he asked Zelensky to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s family’s dealings in the country.
“It’s corruption going on right now,” Trump said, calling congressional leaders “Do Nothing Dems” and the inquiry "a hoax."
The president’s speech came as the House Intelligence Committee and other panels conducted an interview with Kurt Volker, who stepped down as the special U.S. envoy to Ukraine Friday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.