McClatchy's America

Trump cut ACA television ads. So nonprofits are running their own.

The Trump Administration has shortened the Obamacare open enrollment period and slashed funding for ads that encourage people to sign up. But Kansas City area nonprofits are stepping up efforts to get more people to online and purchase insurance.
The Trump Administration has shortened the Obamacare open enrollment period and slashed funding for ads that encourage people to sign up. But Kansas City area nonprofits are stepping up efforts to get more people to online and purchase insurance.

The Community Health Council of Wyandotte County has run ads online and on radio in past years urging uninsured people to sign up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare.

But after President Donald Trump’s administration announced in August that it was slashing 90 percent of the funding for the federal government’s ACA ads this year, the group decided to start placing TV ads as well.

“TV is more expensive, but we know it’s still the best way to reach people,” said Molly Moffett, the council’s project coordinator. “Healthcare.gov had commercials last year, but we’re pretty sure they’re not going to this year, so we’re trying to fill that gap as best we can even though we don’t have the funding they did.”

Trump entered office this year after running on a platform that included repealing Obamacare, which he and other Republicans say is responsible for premium spikes and insurer exoduses in the individual health insurance markets of several states.

Repeal efforts have failed in Congress, but critics say Trump is working to undermine the law anyway. He sliced the ACA advertising budget from $100 million to $10 million and diced the budget for “navigators” who help consumers sign up for insurance from $62.5 million to $36.8 million.

The Trump administration also shortened the ACA open enrollment period. In past years, the enrollment period stretched through all of November and December and even into January. Some insurers said that made it too easy for people to wait until they got sick to sign up for insurance, which was a problem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City cited to Kansas regulators before deciding to pull out of the ACA this year.

Under Trump, the enrollment period will only run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.

Trump’s changes have spurred efforts to bolster the ACA from outside of government. A group of former Obama administration officials started their own campaign, called Get America Covered, last week to try and convince young adults to sign up for coverage.

The Wyandotte County health council’s ads are part of longer-running efforts by health-related nonprofits in the Kansas City area.

The council is part of a group called Cover KC that includes the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the REACH Healthcare Foundation. The coalition had been working to publicize ACA enrollment through advertising long before Trump took office, but mostly through radio, print and digital ads.

The United Way of Greater Kansas City has lent its 2-1-1 information line as a referral service that consumers can call to get connected to an ACA navigator. But the group doesn’t provide any funding for the ads.

The ad dollars mostly come from the health care foundations.

The Mid-America Regional Council uses those funds to maintain the Cover KC website and organize ad buys. Catherine Couch, a spokeswoman for MARC, said that aside from the TV spots, the Cover KC ads are nothing new. But the amount of money flowing in from the nonprofits has increased some this year.

“It is in reaction to the fact that the federal funding is being decreased,” Couch said.

Jennifer Sykes, a spokeswoman for the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, said her organization’s outlay for ACA outreach increased from $135,274 last year to $146,208.

REACH has awarded almost $950,000 in grant funds for ACA outreach and enrollment since 2016, including a $117,250 grant to Moffett’s organization that REACH announced Monday.

“This has been a fairly substantial investment fort REACH given our size,” REACH spokeswoman Pattie Mansur said.

Andy Marso: 816-234-4055, @andymarso

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