President Trump took action Tuesday to limit out-of-pocket expenses for some seniors who take insulin for diabetes, his latest in a series of moves this month to protect older Americans as polls show his support in the key voting group slipping during the coronavirus crisis.
The new health care program will allow certain private Medicare plans to cap seniors' out-of-pocket expenses on insulin at $35 per month, Mr. Trump said Tuesday. It will affect about 3 million Medicare enrollees who have diabetes.
Mr. Trump said the plan, which will take effect in January, comes as his administration also is taking steps to protect seniors from the coronavirus outbreak.
"We're not only keeping older Americans safe from the virus, we're also ensuring that they have the best medical care at a price they can afford," he said in a Rose Garden event.
Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said many seniors limit their insulin dosage or stop taking the drug to control diabetes when their monthly co-pay exceeds $50 per month. She said the cost of the program could be covered partly by a rise of $1 or $2 per month in premiums.
The program will be offered to seniors who are covered by stand-alone Part D enhanced plans, and Medicare Advantage plans that offer drug coverage. It will not apply to other non-insulin medications used to control diabetes.
The move comes amid recent polls showing President Trump's support among seniors has been eroding during the coronavirus crisis. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the insulin plan is part of the president's continuous effort to lower health care costs.
"We're talking prescription drugs today, not politics, here at the White House," she said.
But Mr. Trump referred to the political aspect of his moves several times during the announcement.
Referring to an Obamacare provision that is being waived to help lower the cost of insulin, Mr. Trump said, "I hope the seniors are going to remember it, because [former Vice President Joseph] Biden is the one that put us into the jam. They weren't competent."
He also brought up a medical billing transparency provision that will go into effect on Jan. 1, after the election.
"It'll be here by the first of the year, so you've got to remember me, just in case the unthinkable happens," Mr. Trump said.
In 2016, Mr. Trump won among seniors by 7 percentage points over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. As the total deaths from COVID-19 approached 100,000 in the U.S. on Tuesday, 58.4% of the fatalities were Americans 75 or older.
In a Quinnipiac nationwide poll last week, Mr. Trump trailed Mr. Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, by 10 percentage points among voters 65 and older. Half of seniors said they strongly disapprove of the way Mr. Trump is handling his job.
In the same survey, 64% of seniors said Mr. Biden cares about average Americans, compared to just 43% who said Mr. Trump does.
From mid-March to mid-April, Mr. Trump lost 20 points among seniors in a Morning Consult survey for his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The trend looks bleaker for the president in some battleground states with a higher percentage of older voters, such as Florida. In 2016, Mr. Trump won older voters there by 17 percentage points, but a Quinnipiac poll in Florida in mid-April showed him losing to Mr. Biden by 10 points.
In Pennsylvania, a Fox News poll in mid-April showed the president trailing Mr. Biden by 3 points among older voters.
"Seniors have been devastated, more than any other age cohort," said Christopher Borick, director of the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, located in the congressional district that the president visited two weeks ago.
"A lot of that concern is connected to the federal response. I think for the president, the idea that he has some weakness with that group is a really troublesome prospect," he said.
Trump campaign officials didn't dispute the recent poll findings.
"Just like anyone else, senior citizens see President Trump leading the nation during the coronavirus response and working to reopen the economy," said campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh. "Seniors also care about who can restore the economy to greatness, who will stand up to China, and who will put America first in every decision. They care about a strong military, looking after veterans, and protecting Social Security and Medicare. President Trump wins on all those issues and Joe Biden's record is abysmal."
The Trump campaign announced Tuesday that Bill Stepien, the former White House political director who has been serving as a senior political adviser to the campaign, has been promoted to deputy campaign manager.
"I will continue to support [campaign manager] Brad Parscale as he leads the campaign, working with all of our partners in states across the country, and helping to coordinate all of our efforts to ensure the president is re-elected," Mr. Stepien said in a statement.
The campaign is also promoting Midwest regional political director Stephanie Alexander to become campaign chief of staff.