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Was Trump Right Slashing the Obamacare Ad Budget By 90%?

by Countable | 9.1.17

What’s the story?

President Trump is slashing the Obamacare advertising budget by 90%.

In 2016, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services spent $100 million to raise public awareness about the Affordable Care Act. This year, CMS only plans on spending $10 million.

Funding for "navigators" – those helping people sign up on the individual market – will be cut from $62.5 million to $36.8 million. Navigators, who are employed by nonprofits, signed up roughly 81,500 people in 2016.

In addition, the Trump administration will shrink the open enrollment period to nearly half of what it was during the Obama administration: for 2017 coverage, open enrollment ran from November 1 through January 31; for 2018 coverage, open enrollment will run from November 1 through December 15.

The Boston Herald reported that around "12.2 million people signed up for subsidized private health insurance under the [ACA]" for 2017, including “many in states that President Donald Trump carried in November. Current enrollment is estimated to be around 10 million, due to attrition also seen in prior years.”

Why does it matter?

With few exceptions, individuals can only change their insurance, or sign up for new insurance, during the marketplace’s open enrollment period. President Obama made it a priority to spread the word about open enrollment and get people signing up. This included commercials, Tweets, and off-beat interviews, including the one on Between Two Ferns.

By refusing to promote the exchanges, or directing people to sign up on healthcare.gov, the Trump administration could cause a steep decline in new enrollees. This, in turn, could cause fewer people to sign up for health care which would cause insurers to have to dramatically raise their rates. It’s why some have been calling the advertising cuts "sabotage."

"Trump Admin is deliberately sabotaging our healthcare system. When number of insured drops & costs rise, American ppl will know who to blame," wrote Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Twitter.

Similarly, on Wednesday a bipartisan coalition of governors – led by Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich - sent a letter to Congress outlining their hopes for the ACA. Among other guidelines, they propose the federal government "Maximize market participation" by

"First and foremost, encouraging younger, healthier people to enroll in insurance and educating Americans about the importance of coverage can help improve the risk pool. The federal government should continue to fund outreach and enrollment efforts that encourage Americans to sign up for insurance. Many states invest in similar efforts, and all states need the federal government's support to maximize participation from younger, healthier people."

The press secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, Caitlin Oakley, disagreed. "Judging effectiveness by the amount of money spent and not the results achieved is irresponsible and unhelpful to the American people," said Oakley. “A health care system that has caused premiums to double and left nearly half of our counties with only one coverage option is not working. The Trump administration is determined to serve the American people instead of trying to sell them a bad deal."

This isn’t the first time the new administration is pulling advertising for Obamacare. As CNN Money noted, the Trump administration "halted up to $5 million worth of ads just days after taking office in January. The campaign was intended to alert consumers to the end of the 2017 sign-up period on January 31. Outreach is considered critical in the final days of the enrollment period to remind consumers - particularly younger ones - of the deadline. Sign ups typically surge during this time."

What do you think?

Is cutting the ACA advertising budget about serving "the American people instead of trying to sell them a bad deal"? Or should the federal government “continue to fund outreach and enrollment efforts that encourage Americans to sign up for insurance”? Do you already know about healthcare.gov and the open-enrollment period? Hit the Take Action button, tell your reps, and share your thoughts below—the comment period is always open.

—Josh Herman

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(Photo Credit: chokkicx / iStockphoto)

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