President Donald Trump's plan to distribute $200 drug-discount cards to all Medicare recipients remains in limbo after officials missed an earlier goal of sending out millions of announcement letters and even some cards by Election Day, said three officials with knowledge of the plan.
The officials said that there are still unresolved concerns about the legality and logistics of the nearly $8 billion plan, including how it would be financially structured, and that there are no current plans to roll out the program.
"We haven't heard anything in days," said one health official whose team at the Health and Human Services department would be involved in the program.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which would administer the program, did not respond to a request for comment. CMS Administrator Seema Verma had urged staff to finalize the plan before the election, two officials said.
A White House official said the plan, which Trump abruptly unveiled last month, is being voluntarily delayed until after Election Day to dispel the perception that it was politically motivated.
"The program is approved and moving forward," the White House official said on Friday. "Cards will be sent out in the months of November and December," adding that all the cards would arrive by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office has agreed to review the program's legality, according to a letter that GAO sent to Democratic lawmakers on Friday.
“It has been clear from the very beginning that this program is a political stunt,” said Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Senate Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in a joint statement. “With GAO now investigating potential misuse of taxpayer funds, the administration had better come to its senses and scrap this highly suspect program.”
The plan has come under increasing scrutiny since POLITICO three weeks ago detailed officials’ hasty efforts to fulfill the president’s promise, including a proposal to spend $19 million to send letters touting the program to 39 million seniors in October.
The health department's top lawyer warned in an internal memo that the plan could violate the law by using taxpayer funds in such a fashion so close to Election Day and recommended that the Justice Department review the proposal.
Trump abruptly announced the drug-discount plan last month, in a surprise to some of his own health deputies, as administration officials sought to shore up the president's poll numbers with seniors.
"Nobody has seen this before. These cards are incredible," Trump said on Sept. 24, vowing that the cards "will be mailed out in coming weeks."
"I will always take care of our wonderful senior citizens," the president added. "Joe Biden won't be doing this."
But Trump has scarcely mentioned the cards since, touting them only at a speech to senior citizens in Florida two weeks ago.