ObamaCare advocates: Hole too deep to make up outreach cuts

ObamaCare advocates: Hole too deep to make up outreach cuts
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ObamaCare advocates said there is no way to fill the void left by the Trump administration’s decision to slash 90 percent of funding for enrollment outreach for the health law, potentially creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“There’s no way outside nonprofit organizations like ours can make up for the significant resource loss that will occur by virtue of this decision,” Craig Obey, deputy executive director of Families USA, said in an email to The Hill.

Cutting outreach via advertising and other services will likely result in fewer people insured, according to experts. Those who don’t sign up will likely be healthier than average, which will end up pushing premiums higher.

Department of Health and Human Services officials announced on Thursday that funding for advertising and other outreach for ObamaCare enrollment will be cut from $100 million last year to $10 million this year. Officials said the planned cuts are necessary, arguing the administration is seeing "diminishing returns" from ObamaCare spending.

Officials also pointed to ObamaCare's shortcomings to justify the cuts, for example, pointing to rising premiums.


But according to former Obama administration officials and health law advocates, the reductions look like a deliberate effort to let the law fail.

“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you intentionally undermine the law, it’s hard to say it would do this on its own,” Elizabeth Hagan, associate director of coverage initiatives at Families USA, said.

It's no secret President Trump has said that he wants ObamaCare to "implode" to force Democrats to the negotiating table for a replacement. Earlier this year, Republicans failed to repeal the law and replace it with their own narrower bill.

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.

“It seems quite appropriate to review current outreach efforts to see if they can done more efficiently, but these cuts are dramatic,” he said.

The insurance industry's lobbying group America's Health Insurance Plans said enrollment outreach is necessary.

"Effective education ensures that consumers understand their coverage options and encourages broader participation of healthy individuals," AHIP spokeswoman Kristine Grow said in an email. "Marketing, outreach, and education are critical to ensure that all consumers are aware of the upcoming open enrollment period, understand new timelines, and enroll by the deadline."

Advocacy groups are already actively involved in trying to promote ObamaCare signups and inform the public that the law still exists. According to an August poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, eight percent of respondents said they didn’t know if the law was still in effect.

But the administration’s announcement caught many groups by surprise, and they are scrambling to try to respond.

“In the absence of a federal role, it’s going to be up to advocates to make sure we get word out,” Angel Padilla, policy director at the liberal advocacy organization Indivisible said. “It’s not going to nearly be enough to make up for the loss from the federal government, but there is an effort.”

Joshua Peck, the former chief marketing officer for the healthcare.gov website under the Obama administration, told The Hill that past studies have shown advertising to be effective. Many potential enrollees weren’t aware of the program, he said.

Peck said there would have to be a grassroots effort to try to mitigate some of the effects of the advertising cuts.

“I don't think it's a reasonable assumption to think people will completely fill the [funding] gap. It’s not possible, it’s just too deep.”

Insurance companies aren’t in a position to help either, Peck said.

The federal government is usually seen as an unbiased place where people can go to buy insurance, according to Peck. Consumers aren’t going to see for-profit insurance companies in the same way.