This past weekend, president-elect Trump made grandiose promises in an interview with the Washington Post about his health care plan. “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump told the newspaper. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”
He added that under his plan, people can expect “great health care” that is “much less expensive and much better.”
Trump said that while he opposes a single payer health care system, he will take care of the American people’s health insurance needs. “They’ll be beautifully covered,” he said.
The question is, what we are supposed to make of this? Is this the truth? Or is this a bald-faced lie?
Precedent is relevant. Consider how departing president Barack Obama got tangled up in an exaggeration about his signature policy initiative, the Affordable Care Act.
Trying to defend his plan against his many critics, Obama infamously told the nation (repeatedly) that “if you like your health plan, you can keep it.” Then he ran up against the fact that four million Americans got cancellation notices from their insurance companies because their plans failed to meet strict, ACA minimum standards.
These four million people were a fraction of a total insured population of 262 million, but Obama faced withering criticism from ACA opponents. The president’s less-than-factual assertion was branded a lie. Talk show radio host Sean Hannity said Obama’s statement was equal to top-tier presidential lies, including President Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” and President Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” PolitiFact, a newspaper fact-checking service, named Obama’s statement their 2013 Lie of the Year.
Trump’s promise about cheaper and better health care seems to be over the moon. It would seem impossible for the federal government to provide universal health insurance that will be cheaper for consumers without spending more taxpayer dollars, even if, as he hinted, he will demand lower prices from drug companies. It would seem a political impossibility for Trump to get Republicans in Congress to replace the Affordable Care Act with a more generous health care plan, while at the same time not cutting other entitlements, including Medicare or Social Security.
House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan has said he is “on the same page” as Trump when it comes to health care, but so far has promised only “universal access” to health insurance through minor reforms, including Health Savings Account expansion and a plan to sell health insurance across state lines. Ryan is committed to major cuts in Medicare and Social Security.
Clearly, the nation has to give Trump a chance to present his health care plan. Judgment must wait. Maybe he can deliver miracles.
We need to prepare, however, for the possibility that Trump’s health care promises won’t play out as advertised.
The question then becomes whether Trump, like Obama before him, should be castigated as a health care liar if his promises wilt and die after the inauguration.
The same people who held Obama to account on his Affordable Care Act promises need to be just as tough on Trump. The new president has promised health care for all that is cheaper and better. He needs to be held to that statement.
Now, maybe in Trump’s weekend announcement we will usher in the dawn of a new, wondrous era in American health care. Whether we are rich or poor, we will all have great health insurance at a fraction of the current price. But then, again, maybe all we have heard is the 2017 Lie of the Year.