Feb 5, 2020 - Health

State of the Union previews 2020's pre-existing conditions fight

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump claimed last night during the State of the Union that he will "always protect patients with pre-existing conditions" — a statement that's misleading at best.

Why it matters: Pre-existing conditions protections are popular, and both parties are trying to claim credit for them. But only one of the parties has a track record of defending those protections, and it's not the GOP.

Reality check: Republicans' repeal and replace efforts in 2017 wouldn't have preserved the same level of protections the Affordable Care Act provides, nor would any of the plans they've put forward since.

  • The Trump administration and Republican state attorneys general are currently fighting in court to strike down the entire ACA — including its pre-existing conditions protections.

The other side: Democratic presidential candidates aren't focused on pre-existing conditions right now.

  • Instead, they're duking it out over where the party should go next on health care, and whether that's a public option or Medicare for All.
  • Trump seems perfectly happy with this, saying last night that "we will never let socialism destroy American health care" — a preview of how he'll likely attack whichever proposal prevails into the general election.
  • In remarks prior to the State of the Union, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed Trump for his support of the ACA lawsuit, for flip-flopping on Medicare drug price negotiations and for the administration's Medicaid block grant proposal.

Between the lines: This sounds much more like Democrats' winning 2018 message than the fight 2020 presidential candidates are having. It also sounds exactly like what we'll probably hear for the rest of the year.

Other SOTU health mentions:

There was no mention of the administration's international pricing index, which would tie the price of some Medicare drugs to what other countries pay and is very controversial among Republicans.

  • Instead, Trump called for bipartisan legislation, specifically mentioning a bill by Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden.

Trump alluded to expanded short-term health plans, saying that "our new plans are up to 60% less expensive — and better."

  • What he didn't say is that these plans aren't required to cover pre-existing conditions or the same benefits that ACA plans are.

He touted the administration's transparency rules, saying that they "will save families massive amounts of money for substantially better care."

  • In reality, some experts argue that transparency measures could cause prices to increase, and either way are unlikely to be a silver bullet, even though transparency is a laudable goal.

He repeated the claim that prescription drug prices have gone down for the first time in 51 years — which isn't exactly true, although generics have been driving overall costs down and, as Trump said last night, the administration has approved a record number of generics.

He also slammed Democrats for supporting providing health benefits to undocumented immigrants — another preview of a top 2020 talking point.

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RNC expands convention search across the Sun Belt

Donald Trump, Mike Pence and their families on the last night of the Republican National Convention in Ohio in 2016. Photo: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images.

The Republican National Committee is planning site visits over the next 10 days to more than a half-dozen cities — across the South and into Texas and Arizona — as it scrambles for a new convention host, people familiar with the internal discussions tell Axios.

Driving the news: The RNC's executive committee voted Wednesday night to allow most of the convention to move — with only a smaller, official portion remaining in Charlotte — after North Carolina's governor said the coronavirus pandemic would mean a scaled-back event with social distancing and face coverings.

Oil faces tough road back from coronavirus

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Oil companies in the battered shale patch are starting to bring back some production as prices climb, but a new report underscores how the pandemic is taking a heavy financial toll despite signs of revival.

Driving the news: Fourteen North American producers have filed for bankruptcy thus far during the second quarter, per a tally from the law firm Haynes and Boone, which closely tracks the sector's finances.

2 hours ago - World

Hong Kong legislature bans insults to Chinese national anthem

Activists holding a candlelit remembrance outside Victoria Park in Hong Kong on June 4, 2020, to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Hong Kong’s legislature approved a bill Thursday that makes insulting the "March of the Volunteers," the Chinese national anthem, illegal, AP reports.

Why it matters: It did so on the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, when Chinese troops opened fire on pro-democracy activists in 1989. The death toll has never been released, but estimates vary between hundreds and thousands.