MIAMI (CBSMiami) — President Donald Trump visited the Sunshine State Thursday afternoon to talk about his administration’s healthcare agenda and to sign an executive order related to “improving the Medicare program in the United States.”
Trump took to the stage at around 1:40 p.m. at the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center in the Villages.
The Thursday afternoon event was held at the sprawling retirement community, a Republican stronghold where Trump overwhelmingly won in 2016.
The Villages includes parts of Sumter, Lake, and Marion counties.
Meanwhile, outside the facility supporters gathered for hours to fill the venue.
“South Florida, wake up. Trump 2020,” said Tony Sutera, who moved to The Villages from Tamarac. “In my opinion electrifying. No nonsense, right to the point. The guy is spectacular.”
Protesters also gathered outside holding anti-Trump signs.
“It is so destructive to the country. He would sacrifice, and has sacrificed, everything on the altar of his ego. It’s the only thing that’s important to him,” said protestor Marsha Shearer.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife were among the dignitaries on hand for the visit.
During his speech, Trump accused Democrats of an all-out attempt to “totally obliterate Medicare” and portrayed himself as the program’s defender as he took steps to expand Medicare’s private insurance option.
Trump angrily defended himself against House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
As retirees living on a fixed income, Paula Bedner and her husband don’t have a lot of money to spare.
But when Democratic House members announced last week they were carrying out an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, her husband, Don, went online to donate to Trump’s reelection campaign.
“My husband, that is not in his nature,” said Bedner, who lives in The Villages.
“In The Villages, if anything, it has gotten people more determined not to let them get away with it,” said Bedner, who is active in the local Republican women’s club. “People have had enough of this. They see the president is doing good things and the economy is going well.”
Referring to the nickname Trump has given official Washington, she said, “The swamp is fighting hard.”
Fellow Villages resident Dale Sutthoff said he wasn’t bothered by reports of Trump’s communication with Zelensky, in part because he felt Trump was looking into any interference in the 2016 election that may have stemmed from Ukraine.
“He’s doing nothing more than protecting us under the law,” Sutthoff said. “It’s just fine.”
Even though they didn’t get invitations to hear Trump, hundreds of The Villages residents congregated in a town square next to the theater where the president was speaking. Dressed in red “Make American Great Again” ball-caps and wearing “Trump-Pence” T-shirts, they sat in law chairs underneath a giant oak tree in the square filled with restaurants. Golf carts, the primary mode of transportation, had signs that read, “Trump Pence, Keep America Great, Victory 2020.”
Steve Pierson, who retired to The Villages from New York three years ago, was wearing a T-shirt that said, “Villagers for Trump,” a group he joined last year after they had a golf cart caravan that drove through the retirement community to show support for Trump before the congressional elections. He called the impeachment inquiry “political theater.”
“The Villages is overwhelmingly, wholeheartedly pro-Trump,” Pierson said.
In a corner of the town square farthest from the theater, in front of a deli, about 25 anti-Trump protesters gathered with “Impeach 45” and “No More Lies” signs. Some blew whistles to show support for the whistleblower whose report led to the impeachment inquiry. Others chanted “Lock him up!”
At one point, Trump supporters at a neighboring Greek restaurant started shouting at the anti-Trump protesters, who blew their whistles back at them. Other Trump supporters waved Trump flags in front of the protesters, and at several points deputies had to get between the two groups.
Chris Stanley, who leads the local Democratic club, said being a member of her party in The Villages isn’t easy. She has had her car and golf cart scratched when there were pro-Democratic bumper stickers on them and she says she gets harassed if she wears T-shirts supporting Democrats out in public.
“We’re harassed everywhere we go if they can tell we are Democrats,” she said. “I get rude comments. I get spit on.”
Peter Davidson, who at one point was lightly shoved by a Trump supporter while blowing a whistle in the supporter’s face Thursday, echoed those feelings, even though he’s unaffiliated.
“It’s tough to be a not-Trump supporter because you get harassment from everybody,” said Davidson, who retired from Rhode Island five years ago. “The bars, the softball fields, the golf courses, everywhere. If you aren’t a Trump supporter here, it’s mean stuff. They actually get mean.”
“Medicare is under threat like never before,” Trump said. “Almost every major Democrat in Washington has backed a massive government health care takeover that would totally obliterate Medicare.”
Trump signed an executive order directing his administration to pursue changes to Medicare, which covers about 60 million seniors and disabled people. Much of what he wants to do is geared toward enhancing Medicare Advantage, the private insurance option picked by about one-third of seniors.
Medicare Advantage plans offer savings on premiums and an annual limit on out-of-pocket costs. These plans provide one-stop shopping, eliminating the need for separate supplemental insurance. Offered by major insurers, the plans also cover prescription drugs in most cases.
But there are trade-offs. People joining a Medicare Advantage plan generally must accept limits on their choice of hospitals and doctors as well as prior insurer approval for certain procedures. If they change their minds and decide to return to traditional Medicare, they’re not always guaranteed supplemental “Medigap” coverage, which is also private.
The president’s order is basically a to-do list for the Department of Health and Human Services that will require months of follow-up. Among the other priorities are an expansion of telemedicine and changes to avoid overpaying for procedures just because they get done in a hospital instead of a doctor’s office.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Trump’s order directs his department to examine whether its current policies and practices put traditional Medicare ahead of the private Medicare Advantage option. Some advocates for older people say that it’s the other way around and that the administration is trying to put private plans ahead.
The executive order does not involve a major overhaul of Medicare, which would require congressional approval.
So far the debate about Medicare for All has mainly been about its projected costs to the government, estimated at $30 trillion to $40 trillion over 10 years.
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