Pedro Rojas holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. | Getty
The Trump administration will significantly scale back Obamacare outreach efforts for the upcoming enrollment season, slashing spending on advertising and funding to community groups deployed to boost enrollment.
Senior HHS officials on Thursday afternoon said the federal government will cut the Obamacare advertising budget from $100 million to $10 million in the upcoming 2018 enrollment season. Funding for so-called navigator organizations that help people enroll will be cut from $63 million last year to roughly $37 million.
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The announcement is the latest sign that President Donald Trump, who has vowed to let Obamacare collapse, will significantly diminish Obamacare implementation after the repeal effort in Congress stalled a month ago.
The administration’s decision will be especially consequential in the 39 states that use HealthCare.gov, the federal enrollment website. These states are more reliant on the federal government to fund outreach, unlike the predominantly blue states that operate their own health insurance exchanges and have dedicated budgets for outreach.
Scaling back advertising and outreach is likely to depress enrollment in the marketplaces, particularly among healthier customers who, compared to sicker patients, are less likely to seek out insurance. Healthier customers are vital to balancing out the costs of sicker customers in the insurance marketplaces.
“The Trump administration is deliberately attempting to sabotage our health care system,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “When the number of people with health insurance declines and costs skyrocket, the American people will know who’s to blame.”
Trump administration health officials argued that Obamacare enrollment dropped last year even after the Obama administration doubled ad spending. Obamacare supporters blame the enrollment drop on the Trump administration’s abrupt decision to cancel millions of dollars in advertisements in the final days of the enrollment season, a critical time when healthier and younger individuals tend to enroll.
HHS officials downplayed concerns that pulling advertising dollars would hurt the Obamacare marketplaces.
“People are generally aware of Obamacare and the exchanges,” one official said.
The federal government will continue to run digital and radio ads as well as perform outreach through emails, texts and other electronic communications, HHS officials said. Enrollment navigators, in order to keep receiving federal funds, would have to demonstrate that they are meeting their sign-up projections.
“The new funding formula is intended to ensure accountability,” the official said.
About 12.2 million people signed up in 2017 health plans during the last enrollment season. Just over 10 million people are still enrolled in the exchanges, according to the latest HHS figures.
The next Obamacare open enrollment period begins Nov. 1 and will last until mid-December in most states.