President Donald Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Instead, the president is suing to overturn the law that actually prohibits insurance companies from banning people with pre-existing conditions.

President Trump signed a toothless executive order on Thursday to protect insurance coverage for people with pre-existing health conditions. But those protections are already guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–a law that Trump is actively trying to repeal. 

The order states that it is the policy of the United States for people with pre-existing conditions to be protected. But it contains no legislative guarantee that people will not lose such protections if the ACA is struck down by the Supreme Court, in a case set to be heard on Nov. 10. 

“I’m in court to terminate this really, really terrible situation. If we win, we will have a better and less expensive plan that will always protect individuals with pre-existing conditions,” Trump falsely claimed on Thursday. “If we lose, what we have now is better than the original version of Obamacare by far, much better.”

Trump signed the order during an appearance in Charlotte, North Carolina which was billed as “President Trump’s Healthcare Vision for America.” In reality, that vision includes Trump backing a lawsuit brought by a coalition of 18 Republican-led states seeking to repeal the ACA. 

If the ACA is repealed, more than 20 million Americans will lose health insurance and as many as 133 million people living with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and cancer may once again be denied coverage or see their premiums skyrocket. 

Trump stated that his order would guarantee these people protections regardless of what happens with the ACA, but his order contains no tangible action—a fact that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar made clear on Thursday.

Azar told reporters that the order simply declared it the policy of the United States to “provide protections to ensure that Americans with pre-existing conditions are protected regardless of whether the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional and its protections for pre-existing conditions invalidated.”

When asked how Americans with pre-existing conditions will be protected if the ACA is overturned, Azar said, “we will work with Congress or otherwise to ensure that they’re protected.”

Trump’s empty branding exercise mirrors his prior efforts on healthcare. The president has repeatedly promised to introduce a “phenomenal” health care plan that guarantees coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and offers better coverage at lower costs. But more than three years into his term, no proposal has ever been introduced. 

Instead, the president has repeatedly tried to gut the ACA—an effort he has doubled down on amid a pandemic in which millions of newly jobless Americans are now relying on the law for health insurance.

Regardless of what Trump says, Wendell Potter, a former insurance company executive turned whistleblower and Medicare for All advocate, believes that if the ACA falls, so too will protections pre-existing conditions.

“They talk a good game about protecting pre-existing conditions, but people need to understand that it’s just talk, because if you do away with the ACA, you are essentially doing away with the protections for pre-existing conditions,” Potter told COURIER last month. “If we repeal the ACA, I cannot imagine how the Republicans can live up to the promise that they will continue to protect people with pre-existing conditions. It just can’t be done, and I think the reason why we are still waiting for the Republican legislation is because they know they can’t figure that out. They can’t do it.”