Donald Trump, the President of these United States of America, either believes that health insurance currently costs $15 a month or he believes that’s how much it should cost. This is according to an interview he did with The Economist on May 4, the same day the American Health Care Act passed the House. A transcript of the interview was published yesterday.
The interview was about economic policy, but they also discussed healthcare and the AHCA. One of the Economist editors pointed out that “some people will look at this bill and say, ‘hang on, a lot of people are going to lose their coverage.'” In Trump’s response, he said [emphasis added]:
You’re going to have absolute guaranteed coverage. You’re going to have it if you’re a person going in…don’t forget, this was not supposed to be the way insurance works. Insurance is, you’re 20 years old, you just graduated from college, and you start paying $15 a month for the rest of your life and by the time you’re 70, and you really need it, you’re still paying the same amount and that’s really insurance.
But I believe it’s very important to have this. Because one thing Obamacare did, is it gave that and it was a concept that people hadn’t heard of. And now I don’t want to end it. I don’t want to end it for somebody that…first of all I don’t want to end it for the people that already have it. And I don’t want to end it for somebody that hasn’t been buying insurance for all of his life where he has a guarantee that for all of his life he’s been buying the insurance and he can buy it inexpensively when he turns 65 or 70 years old. So we put in a tremendous amount and we’re…you know, for the pre-existing conditions. We are going to have a great pool for pre-existing conditions.
Before we even talk about the $15 figure, it bears repeating that the AHCA guarantees coverage for pre-existing conditions in name only, not in practice: The version that passed the House said people couldn’t be denied coverage but that states could choose to let insurers charge people more if they have pre-existing conditions. It would also let insurers charge older people up to five times more than younger people (the current limit is three times more). Trump and other Republicans swear up and down that additional money for high-risk pools will prevent people from being priced out, but multiple think tanks say it’s not nearly enough money.
Now, back to premiums. Trying to decipher exactly what Trump means is often a fool’s errand, but this response seems to have several possible interpretations. Is Trump confusing health insurance with life insurance, which could cost a healthy, 20-something person about $15 a month, according to Mother Jones? Possibly.
Or maybe he thinks people pay $15 a month for health insurance right now, but that is demonstrably false. The average monthly premium for people buying their own insurance was $235.27 in 2013, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and many people’s premiums have increased since then. But if it is $15 then why would premiums need to be lower, a point he’s been hammering since the start of his campaign? He even parroted that line later in his response to the question about people losing coverage, saying: “We’re going to have much lower premiums and we’re going to have much lower deductibles.”
Yet another possibility is that this is how much he thinks health insurance premiums should cost, as Sarah Kliff argues at Vox. Fifteen-dollar-premiums would certainly be much lower than what people are paying now, but it’s totally unrealistic and suggests he has no idea what he’s talking about. Unless, of course, he wants to bring something like Australia’s universal healthcare system to the US. After all, he told the Australian prime minister that it’s better than what we have.