- Senior administration officials said President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order Thursday that aims to "protect" the Medicare program for the nation's seniors. The directive seeks to provide more flexibility for plans and providers while also eliminating regulatory burdens.
- One key tenet of the order will enable Medicare Advantage payers to provide even more diverse plan options, HHS Secretary Alex Azar said on a call with reporters Thursday morning.
- The document, which the president is expected to sign in Florida, will usher in a series of health policy rollouts, officials said.
On the call, senior administration officials also derided the push toward "Medicare for All," a facet of many Democratic presidential campaigns heading into the 2020 election. The administration is concerned such proposals would eviscerate the program as it stands today.
CMS Administrator Seema Verma said Medicare for All is a "pipe dream" that would lead to increased taxes and a rationing of care. She said the administration is taking the exact opposite approach. Turning to the MA program could be a smart move for an administration dogged with criticism on healthcare, as MA is popular with insurers and patients alike.
"They like what they have so the president is going to protect it," Azar said Thursday, adding that Trump is committed to protecting private insurers' role in the program while some Democratic presidential hopefuls have called for the elimination of private payers altogether.
Though officials were light on details, they said the executive order aims to expand access to healthcare providers and the latest therapies while allowing providers to spend more time with patients.
The order would also allow Medicare beneficiaries to share more in the savings with MA plans through rebates, Azar said.
The news comes as open enrollment nears for MA plans, which are projected to hit a 13-year low for premiums in 2020. About 24 million seniors, or a third of those eligible for Medicare, are expected to enroll in an MA plan in 2020.
Verma has frequently sung the praises of the MA program as an example of a successful public-private partnership. And CMS has recently expanded benefit options payers can offer. Those flexibilities have focused on new benefits around social determinants and telehealth options.
For example, multiple plans in 2020 will feature programs for transportation assistance, meal delivery, pest control services and adult day center visits.
It's not clear what other policy changes could follow the order. The Trump administration has focused its ire recently on rising prescriptions drug prices, but has rolled back regulatory effort to rein them in, or seen the proposals halted in court.
That uncertainly only builds on an already unstable landscape for the industry, which is awaiting a ruling that could strike down the Affordable Care Act. The Trump administration has refused to defend the law.