Healthcare

Trump to slash ObamaCare outreach funding

The Trump administration is slashing funding for ObamaCare enrollment outreach. 

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials announced on a call with reporters Thursday that funding for advertising and other outreach for ObamaCare enrollment will be cut from $100 million last year to $10 million this year.

A department official argued the administration is seeing "diminishing returns" from ObamaCare spending. Officials also pointed to ObamaCare's shortcomings to justify the cuts. 

"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," said HHS spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley. "The Trump administration is determined to serve the American people instead of trying to sell them a bad deal."

The administration will still be spending some money on signing people up for health-care plans under the law, despite its opposition to ObamaCare. 

Officials also announced they are cutting funding for "navigators," which are outside organizations that help sign people up. Funding will be proportional to how navigators have fared in hitting their enrollment target the previous year. If a group signed up 70 percent of their target, they will get 70 percent of the funding. 

An HHS official said this system means navigators will be "held accountable."

The reduction in spending on the navigators is a 41 percent cut, down to $36.8 million, HHS said.

HHS officials said they are planning to set a goal for the number of people to sign up, as the Obama administration also did, but have not announced it yet. 

Democrats are accusing the Trump administration of trying to "sabotage" ObamaCare, and are pouncing on the outreach cuts as further evidence that the administration is trying to make the law fail. 

"This is a clear effort by the Trump Administration to further sabotage the Affordable Care Act by undermining Open Enrollment funding for outreach and assistance to consumers," Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement Thursday. "The only reason for slashing the advertising budget by 90% is to suppress enrollment in an effort to destabilize the markets."

President Trump has said that he wants the law to "implode" to force Democrats to the negotiating table for a replacement. 

However, his administration has so far not gone all the way to make good on those threats. 

So far, the administration has not canceled key ObamaCare payments to insurers known as cost-sharing reductions and has not said it will stop enforcing the mandate to have coverage. Insurers have said uncertainty on both fronts is leading to higher premiums, though. 

The Trump administration is in the awkward position of overseeing a law that it vigorously opposes.

Larry Levitt, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the cuts would lead to reduced enrollment and higher premiums from a sicker mix of enrollees. "Cutting ACA outreach will result in fewer people insured, and those who fail to sign up will be the healthiest," Levitt wrote on Twitter. "That will push premiums up."

This story was updated at 5:18 p.m.

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