In the latest assault on the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration has cancelled $5 million in consumer outreach and advertising efforts designed to bolster marketplace enrollment for 2017.
With five days left in what could be Obamacare's final open enrollment season, the decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services could put a damper on what has traditionally been the most busy period for consumers seeking individual coverage on HealthCare.gov and state marketplaces.
It’s unclear if the ad buys had already been paid for or whether the $5 million had been earmarked for a specific use and must be returned to the U.S. Treasury.
In a statement issued Thursday night, an HHS spokesman explained the move: “The federal government has spent more than $60 million promoting the open enrollment period. HHS has pulled back roughly $5 million of the final placement in an effort to look for efficiencies where they exist," the e-mail statement said.
Kevin Counihan, former CEO of HealthCare.gov, said Trump's "outrageous" move could "sabotage" what had been a robust enrollment period. As of January 14, more than 8.8 million people had signed up for coverage on HealthCare.gov compared to about 8.7 million at the same point last year.
“Having health insurance is still law of the land,” Counihan wrote. “If the President and Republicans in Congress want to change that, they should come up with a plan and show it to the American people, rather than depriving Americans of the chance to sign up for coverage and financial assistance they remain eligible for."
Counihan said the ad pull could cut the number of last-minute enrollees, which could cause coverage costs to increase and some insurers to leave the marketplace.
"Before January 20, Healthcare.gov enrollment was running ahead of schedule, and more Americans were receiving the security of health insurance than ever before," Counihan wrote. "We know that more young people enroll during the final days of Open Enrollment, but they need to be reminded of the January 31 deadline.”
Only hours after taking office, Trump issued an executive order directing agencies with jurisdiction over the health law to waive “any provision or requirement” that would impose a “fiscal burden” on any state, or a “cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals” or others who purchase health care.
Experts said that could include the individual mandate that requires most Americans to either purchase insurance or pay a fee.