The Trump administration is dramatically cutting funding dedicated to advertising and promoting enrollment in Obamacare. The cuts are further evidence that the Trump administration will undermine its least favorite health care law at all costs, despite having no legislation to replace it if it fails.
The administration announced Thursday afternoon that it would be cutting the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) advertising budget by 90 percent, from $100 million to $10 million. Additionally, the administration announced it will cut funding from navigator groups—nonprofits that help people enroll in health insurance—from $63 million to $36 million.
The Trump administration is cutting spending on Obamacare enrollment ads by 90 PERCENT, from $100 million to $10 million.
— Alex Wayne (@aawayne) August 31, 2017
Administration officials explained their decision to reporters Thursday, saying that it didn’t make sense to continue spending so much on advertising for a program about which people were widely aware.
While that may be true, being aware of the program is not the same as being aware of how to enroll in said program, and a 2016 study from the Kaiser Family Foundation concluded that the need for in-person enrollment assistance “remains strong.”
Additionally, the administration said it will cut advertising from television entirely, despite the fact that, as Lori Lodes, director of the Protect Our Care campaign, noted on Twitter, TV was the number one driver of enrollment.
Guess what that modeling showed us? TV was #1 driver. And it helps make digital, email and everything else more effective.
— Lori Lodes (@loril) August 31, 2017
Democrats roundly criticized the funding cuts this week.
“The Trump administration is deliberately attempting to sabotage our health care system,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) 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.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) was more succinct, simply tweeting, “SABOTAGE.”
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) August 31, 2017
Trump has taken drastic steps in recent months to stoke uncertainty about the future of the ACA, while simultaneously claiming that the program is breaking down under its own weight.
A central part of the ACA is the cost-sharing reduction payments that the executive branch pays to insurers to help offset the costs of covering lower-income people. The CSRs are part of a lawsuit House Republicans filed against the Obama administration, which the House Republicans won. The Obama administration appealed and kept making the payments, but Trump can drop the appeal and stop making the payments at any time.
And he’s already threatened to do it: recently, Trump suggested he may stop paying the CSRs, a suggestion insurers have cited as reason for requesting premium increases, due to uncertainty.
Additionally, as ThinkProgress reported last week, several state officials say they have not been contacted by the administration about open enrollment, which begins November 1. The enrollment period has also been shortened, now running from November 1 to December 15, instead of January 31, as it did last year.
On Thursday morning, before making an announcement about slashing funding, Govs. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and John Kasich (R-OH) released what they called a “bipartisan blueprint” for stabilizing Obamacare. Most of the recommendations were simply pleas that the law be properly enforced.
The first recommendation in the plan was that Trump commit to paying the CSRs and that Congress explicitly appropriate funding for the payments. Additionally, the governors’ plan called for keeping the individual mandate “for now.” The mandate is central to the law working properly, as the requirement that everyone purchase health care brings healthier, younger people into the risk pool, which offsets the costs of insuring older, sicker people.
That the “bipartisan blueprint” for saving Obamacare includes keeping the part of the law that makes the whole thing work is evidence of just how toxic the health care debate has become and just how successful Republicans, the president in particular, have been in undermining the law and stoking unfounded fears.
The ACA ad funding cut comes as a number of high-profile Democrats have emerged in favor of a single-payer system. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), whose name has come up in discussions about potential 2020 presidential candidates, announced Wednesday evening that she would co-sponsor a Medicare for All bill with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).