Following a request from Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Pat Murray (D-Wash), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) will investigate the Administration’s decision to halt paid outreach advertisements and to suspend other related efforts aimed at informing the public of Marketplace enrollment in the days leading up to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) open enrollment season. In a letter sent to the Senators on March 23rd, Inspector General, Daniel R. Levinson, said that OIG will review the timeline and decision-making process, including all analyses regarding the cost-saving implications of pulling the ads.
The OIG’s inquiry comes as a response to a letter from Senator Warren and Senator Murray wherein they suggested that pulling advertisements “threatens to increase insurance prices for the individuals who will signed up for ACA coverage on the exchanges in 2018 and beyond.”
The Attempt to Undermine Obamacare
The Administration’s decision to stop the ACA ad campaign came in late January as a kind of preamble to the GOP’s failed attempt on March 24th to repeal and replace Obamacare using the American Health Care Act (ACHA). The OIG’s announcement comes shortly after the Republicans’ failure, as Democrats continue to track the effort on the right to undermine the ACA.
Senator Murray emphasized the need to keep tabs on Republicans when she said, “I am going to continue to hold Secretary [Tom] Price and Republicans accountable for any and all efforts to create Trumpcare by sabotaging our health care system and undermining families’ access to care they need.”
Warren and Murray
In their letter to HHS, Senator Warren and Senator Murray pointed to some self-defeating claims made by an anonymous HHS spokesman who suggested that cutting the ad campaign could result in $5 million in savings, which would be sent to the US treasury. However, according to the letter, certain sources inside HHS have said that “the $5 million worth of advertisements have already been paid for and it is ‘unclear whether the government [can] recoup that money.’”
The ads were pulled during the final week of open enrollment, which is an important moment for ACA, because, younger healthier enrollees tend to sign up for health care during that time. And as young people tend to use health services less frequently, their enrollment is essential for offsetting the costs of Health Care. The decision to halt advertisements during open enrollment is doubly concerning because approximately 13 million people enrolled during that time in 2016. Stopping the ad campaigns could result in fewer enrollees.
So if there is really no money to be saved, why halt ACA advertisements? According to Ben Wakana, a senior HHS spokesman before Trump took office, “They are deliberately undermining open enrollment to try to get a lower enrollment number.” Wakana’s point is not totally preposterous when you consider Trump’s statement at a meeting of state governors. He said of the ACA, “Let it be a disaster because we can blame that on the Dems that are in our room, and we can blame that on the Democrats and President Obama.”
And according to The Washington Post, staff members at HHS were taken aback by the Administration’s directive because it would effectively reduce the number of younger healthier enrollees who are the most sought after customers. Thus, it would appear that the Administration is purposefully sabotaging the ACA open enrollment program, putting the Health Care system – and the lives associated with it – at risk, in order to facilitate the dismantling of Obamacare, a move that would result in 24 million people losing their health care.