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Azar says no urgency for Trump to reveal long-promised healthcare plan

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said there is no urgent reason why President Donald Trump should provide the healthcare plan he has promised Americans since he was on the 2016 campaign trail.

Trump is supporting a lawsuit that is seeking to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act, including the law's protections for Americans with preexisting medical conditions and the expansion of the Medicaid program.

SNL ImageHHS Secretary Alex Azar and President Donald Trump
Source: AP Photo

But Trump has yet to reveal a replacement for the ACA.

On Jan. 21, the Supreme Court declined to expedite its review of the Dec. 18, 2019, ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which said the ACA's individual mandate for Americans to buy health insurance or pay a penalty was unconstitutional.

The 5th Circuit sent the case back to a Texas district judge, who declared in December 2018 that the entire ACA was invalid, to determine if other parts of the law could be saved.

The Supreme Court has yet to decide on whether it will take up the case or wait for the lower courts to make new rulings in the lawsuit. But the Jan. 21 decision not to fast-track the case means there is unlikely to be a Supreme Court ruling on the fate of the 2010 law before the November U.S. elections.

"There's really not a need for a replacement of the Affordable Care Act unless and until either there's a final Supreme Court decision that would get rid of it or large parts of it, which is some time away," Azar said Jan. 21 on the "Kevin Wall Radio Show," a conservative talk radio program. "Or until there's a Congress that actually would work with the president on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. And I can assure you, that's not on [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi's agenda. So, frankly, it's not a material thing right now."

Azar did not address Trump's repeated vows on the administration's plan — the one he promised would be ready in early 2017.

"If the stars ever align to look at it, of course we've got ideas," Azar said, though he did not disclose any details.

Promises

During his 2016 run for the White House, Trump repeatedly promised he would get Congress to repeal the ACA and he would have a plan to replace it.

"We will immediately repeal and replace ObamaCare — and nobody can do that like me. We will save $'s and have much better healthcare!" Trump tweeted on Feb. 9, 2016.

"You're going to have such great healthcare at a tiny fraction of the cost. And it's going to be so easy," Trump vowed during an Oct. 25, 2016, campaign rally in Sanford, Fla.

SNL ImageHHS Secretary Alex Azar and President Donald Trump
Source: AP Photo

Days before he took office in January 2017 — three years ago — Trump told The Washington Post that he was nearing completion of a plan to replace the ACA that would ensure "insurance for everybody."

"We have come up with a solution that's really, really I think very good," Trump said at a Feb. 27, 2017, White House meeting of the nation's governors.

But Trump also told the group of governors that since entering the White House, he found replacing the ACA to be a "complex subject."

"Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated," Trump said.

Since then, Trump has repeatedly said he had a plan and would soon unveil it.

In a June 2019 interview with ABC News, Trump said he would reveal the details of his plan in a month or two.

He made similar remarks later that month on NBC's "Meet the Press."

On Aug. 7, 2019, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway said Trump planned to unveil his healthcare plan the next month, though she said it would not be a replacement for the ACA.

When that plan did not come forth, lawmakers questioned Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma at an October 2019 hearing about when Trump would disclose it. She declined to say, stating the administration needed to first hear from the courts.

'Swamp creatures'

Last week, Trump criticized Azar for not doing enough to fulfill the administration's promises on healthcare, including getting HHS' drug pricing proposals implemented.

On the Wall radio program, Azar blamed that lack of action on the "very strong and very powerful" industry lobbyists in Washington, which the secretary called "swamp creatures."

"They won't budge for the American people," he said.

On that radio show and on another conservative talk radio program — "Need To Know With Jeff Angelo" — Azar promoted bipartisan legislation from Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., aimed at lowering drug costs for beneficiaries in the Medicare program.

The HHS secretary said he has worked closely with the two senators on what he called the "incredible" legislative package.

"We've gotta get that package to the Senate floor and we've gotta get that passed out of Congress," Azar said.

The legislation was adopted in July 2019 by the Senate Finance Committee, which Grassley chairs. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has declined to bring the bill to the chamber's floor for a vote.

Earlier this month, Grassley said Trump needed to be "speaking up more" about the legislation.