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Trump’s USA Today op-ed on health care is an absurd tissue of lies

It’s so dishonest it’s debunked by fact-check links in the text itself.

President Trump Holds Rally In Council Bluffs, Iowa
President Donald Trump greets US Rep. David Young (R-IA) during a campaign rally on October 9, 2018 in Council Bluffs.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

USA Today published an op-ed bylined by President Donald Trump Wednesday morning that’s so dishonest it could almost have been Trump speaking extemporaneously at a rally.

In fact, it’s so dishonest that some clever editor appears to have subversively snuck links into the text that debunk some of its key claims — it’s hard to believe that Trump or his communications staff would have done so:

As a candidate, I promised that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and create new health care insurance options that would lower premiums. I have kept that promise, and we are now seeing health insurance premiums coming down.

I also made a solemn promise to our great seniors to protect Medicare. That is why I am fighting so hard against the Democrats’ plan that would eviscerate Medicare. Democrats have already harmed seniors by slashing Medicare by more than $800 billion over 10 years to pay for Obamacare. Likewise, Democrats would gut Medicare with their planned government takeover of American health care.

Follow the “pre-existing conditions” link and you’ll get a Washington Post fact-check item explaining that Trump has betrayed this promise. Follow the “new health care insurance options” link and you’ll find Trump talking during the campaign about allowing insurance plans to be sold across state lines, which hasn’t happened.

Most importantly of all, if you follow the link for “eviscerated Medicare” you find a New York Times analysis of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s Medicare-for-all plan that concludes that Medicare enrollees “would have more generous coverage” under his plan.

This is the core lie of Trump’s op-ed. It is 100 percent true that the left wing of the Democratic Party is pushing a substantial change to the American health care system, and there are many legitimate qualms one might have with that change. But the proposal is to make Medicare more generous, not stingier, as Trump wants senior citizens to believe.

Meanwhile, even though Trump himself maintains that he wants to avoid cuts to Medicare and Social Security, key members of his party — including senior figures in his own administration — keep pushing for cuts. And Trump has already betrayed some crucial campaign promises about these programs.

Medicare-for-all would make Medicare more generous

Trump argues in the op-ed that “Democrats’ plan means that after a life of hard work and sacrifice, seniors would no longer be able to depend on the benefits they were promised.” He also claims that Democrats favor “eliminating Medicare as a program for seniors”; that “the Democratic Party’s so-called Medicare for All would really be Medicare for None”; and that “under the Democrats’ plan, today’s Medicare would be forced to die.”

The first and third claims he makes there are straightforwardly false. The second would probably pass muster with an extremely pedantic fact-checker since under Medicare-for-all, it would be a program for all people rather than a “program for seniors,” but I think it’s clear enough that Trump is trying to trick people.

The fourth claim, by contrast, is in a sense true.

Democrats’ Medicare-for-all proposals would replace today’s Medicare program with a similarly structured but much more generous program run by the same agency. Today, for example, Medicare features premiums and copayments. The Sanders plan would eliminate those and ensure that all medical care is free at the point of service. It would also expand the scope of covered services to include prescription drugs and long-term care.

The idea, in other words, is to give seniors a more generous version of Medicare and extend Medicare coverage to more people. The downside is, obviously, you’d need to raise taxes quite a bit to do that. But Trump wants to make elderly people think Democrats are talking about somehow taking their benefits away — and that just isn’t true.

Republicans keep hinting at cuts to retirement programs

Throughout Barack Obama’s presidency, Republicans time and again submitted and voted for budgets that would have privatized Medicare and then cut government Medicare spending, leaving elderly Americans with stingier services. Back when George W. Bush was president, Republicans — including Vice President Mike Pence — pushed for a program to privatize Social Security and then cut government spending on Social Security, leaving elderly Americans with stingier guaranteed retirement income.

Some of the ins-and-outs of this can get contentious, but the big picture is actually really easy to see — Medicare and Social Security are big, expensive government programs and Republicans don’t like big, expensive government programs because their top budgetary priority is low taxes.

Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, said as much at a September 18 event at the Economic Club of New York. Speaking of the budget impact of the Trump tax cuts, Kudlow said that the real deficit problem is on the spending side and redoubled his commitment to even more tax cuts. The cure for the deficit, he said, was that “we have to be tougher on spending” and that Republicans will “probably” turn the page to reform of “larger entitlements” after the midterms.

This is politically dicey terrain, and everyone knows it. But the long-term goals of the conservative movement on tax policy simply require cutbacks to the biggest drivers of government spending — programs for the elderly. While Trump keeps saying he won’t do this, he’s already broken a lot of adjacent promises.

Trump has broken promises on health and Social Security

Back during the campaign season, Trump’s promises were more expansive than to avoid cuts to Social Security and Medicare. He also said clearly and repeatedly that he wanted to avoid any cuts to Medicaid, a program that numerically mostly covers low-income people but that in terms of dollars spent primarily benefits the elderly and people with disabilities.

Every version of Affordable Care Act repeal that the Trump White House endorsed featured large, growing cuts to Medicaid. Although those bills didn’t pass, the administration has moved forward with executive actions designed to make it easier for states to cut Medicaid.

Campaign-season Trump repeatedly promised to deliver a health care program that “covers everyone.” Not only has he failed to deliver on that promise, but he endorsed many bills that would cause millions of people to lose coverage.

Last but by no means least, he also found an exception to his promise of no cuts to Social Security in the form of a proposal to cut the Social Security Disability Insurance program. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, openly bragged to Politico about how he convinced Trump that Social Security Disability Insurance isn’t really Social Security and said that he continues to push Trump to consider Medicare cuts.

Democrats, in short, are proposing to make Medicare more generous. Trump is lying about that, and was lying during his campaign about Medicaid and preexisting conditions and Social Security.

His top budget adviser favors Medicare cuts. His top economic policy adviser favors Medicare cuts. And Trump definitely favors more tax cuts. But maybe he’s telling the truth and won’t cut Medicare in the future. It’s certainly possible.

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