Trump to sign executive orders to shore up healthcare credentials

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday plans to sign two executive orders on healthcare for Americans that lawyers said will carry little weight as the president seeks to boost his flagging credibility with voters on the hot-button issue ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for campaign travel to North Carolina and Florida from the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2020. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Trump will sign an executive order aimed at ensuring Americans with pre-existing conditions retain healthcare coverage, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Thursday, even as his own administration seeks to strike down the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which protects the same right.

Azar also said Trump was directing him via a second executive order to work with Congress to pass legislation banning surprise healthcare bills by the beginning of next year, and explore executive action to address the goal if the legislative bid fails.

“If the Supreme Court strikes down all or a large part of the Affordable Care Act, what the president is making clear in this executive order is that it is the policy of the United States that people who suffer from pre-existing conditions will be protected against those pre-existing conditions in their insurance coverage,” Azar told reporters on a briefing call.

But some lawyers expressed skepticism that Trump had the authority to make the move via executive order.

“Unless there’s a law that prohibits the conduct in question, or unless the president is exercising a power that’s been delegated to him by Congress, his statements have no more legal weight than a tweet,” said Nicholas Bagley, a professor at University of Michigan’s law school.

“It’s as if I was walking around with a memo that was titled ‘Executive Order,’ and claimed that the policy of the United States is that everybody gets a cheeseburger on Tuesdays,” he added.

Trump lags Democratic rival and former Vice President Joe Biden in national opinion polls, especially on the question of who would better handle healthcare. The president, who has been criticized for failing to follow through on promises to lay out an alternative to Obamacare, will give remarks in Charlotte, North Carolina, on his “America First healthcare vision” later on Thursday.

He has also drawn fire for his administration’s response to the deadly coronavirus, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans.

In June, the Trump administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the Obamacare law that added millions to the healthcare safety net, a move that could scrap coverage during the coronavirus crisis.

The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, prohibited health insurers from denying coverage to Americans with known health conditions.

Surprise bills occur when patients visit a hospital they believe is in their health insurance network but then are seen by a doctor or specialist who is out of network. Trump previously called on Congress to address the issue in 2019.

“What the president is saying is that all the relevant players – hospitals, doctors, insurance companies – had better get their act together, and get legislation passed through Congress that protects patients against surprise medical bills,” Azar said.

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