Trump administration knew Obamacare ad cuts would hurt enrollment, and lied to the public about it
What a difference and election—and bad press—makes. Officials in the Department of Health and Human Services are all of a sudden “on best behavior” when it comes to promoting open enrollment in the Affordable Care Act. Why? Administration staff tell Politico that it’s all about “the prospect of House Democrats conducting investigations and the agency wanting to show that it’s being transparent and responsive.”
Too little, too late. Just days after the Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project revealed that HHS was trying to hide phone and mail enrollment options for would-be customers, and promote the outside agents and brokers who would get a commission, HHS has restored the hidden web pages. In addition, Politico reports, “Political appointees also are publicly posting about ACA open enrollment and encouraging other staff to do so as well, according to internal email obtained by PULSE, while tamping down their traditional criticism.”
There will be investigations anyway, you can count on it. That’s because there’s a whole new lot of smoking emails showing that the administration eliminated television advertising for open enrollment in 2017 after it was informed that doing so would cut enrollments by more than 100,000. Huffington Post’s Jonathan Cohn and Jeffrey Young report on the emails obtained by Democracy Forward through the Freedom of Information Act, in which “analysts at a private contractor and senior staff at the agency in charge of HealthCare.gov discussed an econometric model designed to predict the likely effect of changes to the advertising budget.”
Despite the warning, the administration nearly wiped out the whole promotional budget for Obamacare, cutting it from the $100 million in 2016 to $10 million, with no budget at all for television. In a fact sheet HHS released about the 2017 decision to cut outreach, the administration said “No correlation has been seen between Obamacare advertising and either new enrollment or effectuated enrollment.” And when asked about it on a conference call with reporters, one official said “We haven’t done a specific study related to the public awareness of the program.” Except, of course, Weber Shandwick, the public relations firm handling HealthCare.gov advertising had done just that in creating that econometric model analyzing various advertising methods and concluded a loss of 102,029 enrollments if television ads were eliminated.
In the end, about 400,000 fewer people signed up in 2017 than in 2018, a result that, as Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt called “remarkable,” considering the 90 percent cut in the outreach budget. Thanks to the efforts of former Obama administration health officials and grassroots organizations, 2018 was relatively successful. But 2019 is not shaping up nearly so well, with enrollments down so far 11.7 percent from last year, and with just 2 more days to go.
After all this sabotage, team Trump is dreaming if it thinks it can avoid difficult House hearings next year. Meanwhile, help fight back now for the next two days. Help spread the word about open enrollment and about the free help that’s available, just a quick call or click away. Call 1-800-318-2596, visit localhelp.healthcare.gov or make a one-on-one appointment now.