Trump White House abruptly halts Obamacare adsPolitico
January 27, 2017
The Trump administration has pulled the plug on all Obamacare outreach and advertising in the crucial final days of the 2017 enrollment season, according to sources at Health and Human Services and on Capitol Hill.
Even ads that had already been placed and paid for have been pulled, the sources told POLITICO.
The decision sends the clearest signal yet that President Donald Trump is determined to fulfill his campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare. Hours after being sworn in, Trump issued his first executive order allowing federal officials to start unwinding parts of the law.
"President Trump is signaling he's the new sheriff," said Rep. Chris Collins, (R-N.Y.), the president's top congressional ally. "He's been elected with a mandate. He's not going to tolerate his employees contradicting and undermining his mandate to get this country going in another direction."
Individuals may still sign up for Obamacare plans until the Jan. 31 deadline - but the Trump administration isn't advertising that fact any longer.
It is also halting all media outreach designed to spur signups in the days leading up to the deadline. Emails are no longer being sent out to individuals who visited HealthCare.gov, the enrollment website, to encourage them to finish signing up. Those emails had proven highly successful in getting stragglers to complete enrollment before the deadline.
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a consumer group that supports the law, called the decision "a mean-spirited effort that can only result in fewer people getting coverage who need it."
"You can"t take comments by the Trump administration about trying to help people gain coverage seriously," Pollack said. "It is not a heavy lift to tell people about the opportunities for getting enrolled. It is not a heavy lift to continue ads that have already been paid for."
The last five days of the open enrollment season are seen as critical because many individuals procrastinate and then join a last-minute sign-up surge. That"s particularly true for younger and healthier customers who are crucial to making insurance markets work.
An HHS spokesman described the move as a cost-saving measure.
"The federal government has spent more than $60 million promoting the open enrollment period," the spokesman said. "HHS has pulled back roughly $5 million of the final placement in an effort to look for efficiencies, where they exist."
However, officials in the Obama administration told POLITICO last week that the ads had already been paid for.
The decision to scrap Obamacare outreach and advertising came directly from the White House, according to sources. Trump, who spoke with GOP lawmakers at their Philadelphia retreat Thursday about how to replace the law, has vowed to replace his predecessor's signature policy achievement with a plan that would provide coverage to more people for less money. However, he has provided few details about what that might look like, and the Republicans did not coalesce around a repeal and replace plan.
The White House did not return calls seeking comment.
The Obama administration reported Jan. 4 that 8.8 million individuals had signed up for coverage, a slight increase from last year. The forecast was that 13.8 million would select plans - a goal that will be far harder to reach without the last minute push.
Kevin Counihan, who oversaw HealthCare.gov for the Obama administration, predicted the move would have a measurable impact on enrollment.
"Jan. 31 is a huge period," said Counihan. "It will clearly have a material impact."
HealthCare.gov is still up and displaying enrollment information. However, the site's Twitter feed hasn"t provided any enrollment information for the last nine hours. Previously, it had been offering regular tips on how Americans can sign up for coverage. On Thursday afternoon, it tweeted about flu shots.