Mean-spirited and a waste of tax dollars: Trump administration pulls plug on ACA advertising


January 27, 2017

Late Thursday, the startling news began breaking: In the final, critical week of the 2017 enrollment season for the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration ordered that outreach and advertising efforts touting the enrollment deadline be halted.
The news, first reported in Politico, will tamp down final 2017 enrollment numbers, experts say. That’s because the final week of the enrollment season is one of the two busiest weeks as people rush to meet the Jan. 31 deadline.

Trump Administration officials said the move affects only $5 million or so of the $60 million set aside for advertising the enrollment period during the current fiscal year. They described the cancellation as a way to save tax dollars. But others noted that much of the $5 million already has been spent to buy advertising – meaning taxpayers are left holding the tab for advertising that already has been reserved and paid for, but now will not be used.

Critics see the move as an attempt to damage and undermine the Affordable Care Act. They note that many of the people who sign up at the last minute are younger, healthier people who tend to buy coverage at the last minute, and whose participation makes health insurance costs more affordable overall, since they use fewer health services than older people.

Notes the Washington Post:

Research has shown that the last week of open enrollment tends to draw younger enrollees — an important group, underrepresented in the ACA marketplaces, whose scant use of medical services can help keep insurance prices lower for everyone in a given health plan. For the last week of the sign-up period, HHS had planned a major advertising campaign specifically aimed at that younger cohort, as well as emails and text messages to people who have looked at the site in the past but not signed up.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, told Politico that the Trump Administration’s decision is “a mean-spirited effort that can only result in fewer people getting coverage who need it.”

“You can’t take comments by the Trump administration about trying to help people gain coverage seriously,” Pollack added. “It is not a heavy lift to tell people about the opportunities for getting enrolled. It is not a heavy lift to continue ads that have already been paid for.”

As of Jan. 4, 8.8 million people had signed up for coverage, a slight increase from last year. The Department of Health and Human Services forecast that 13.8 million would sign up by the Jan. 31 deadline, a goal that will be harder to reach without last-minute outreach and advertising.

Kevin Counihan, who oversaw the website in the Obama administration, told Politico that “Jan. 31 is a huge period. It clearly will have a material impact.”

Late Thursday, Politico had this to add: is still up and displaying enrollment information. However, the site’s Twitter feed hasn’t provided any enrollment information for the last nine hours. Previously, it had been offering regular tips on how Americans can sign up for coverage. On Thursday afternoon, it tweeted about flu shots.

So what comes next? Between now and next Tuesday’s deadline, advocates for the Affordable Care Act – and for the notion that the more Americans that have health care coverage the better – will be working in overdrive to spread the word about the enrollment deadline. (You can click on the logo above to learn more about enrolling, or simply go here.)

Finally, many people might be wondering: Why sign up for something that the Trump administration and many Republicans in Congress have pledged to repeal? Our friends at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explain here that people should sign up anyway – and will, for now at least, have access to care.

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