'This Is Sabotage': Trump Cuts Obamacare Outreach Budget By 90%

The Trump administration has announced that it will slash Obamacare's enrollment outreach and advertising budget by 90 percent—from $100 million to $10 million—a move critics denounced as a deliberate act of sabotage and a "huge dereliction" of responsibility.

"We have been worrying about stealth sabotage. This is open, aggressive sabotage," wrote Eliot Fishman, senior director of policy at Families USA.

Ben Wikler, the Washington director of MoveOn.org, called the cuts "disgusting" and said they "will cost lives."

"They changed the [enrollment] deadlines this year," Wikler observed. "Without ads, people will miss the window to get insured."

The Trump administration also announced that "grants to about 100 nonprofit groups, known as navigators, that help people enroll in health plans offered by the insurance marketplaces will be cut to a total of $36 million, from about $63 million," the New York Times reported Thursday.

Activists and healthcare experts sharply condemned the administration's plan, arguing that navigators play an essential role in informing the public about their insurance options under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Attempting to justify cuts to ACA outreach efforts, Department of Health and Human Services officials suggested that everyone is already aware of their coverage opportunities under Obamacare, and that spending on advertising for the law's open enrollment period—which is from November 1 to December 15, over a month shorter than last year's—is unnecessary.

Those involved in outreach insisted that nothing could be further from the truth.

Alisha Keezer, who works as a healthcare navigator at the Maine Lobstermen's Association in Kennebunk, called the administration's announcement "shocking" and "heartbreaking" in an interview with the Times.

"Here in Maine, we have helped many fishermen enroll in coverage—self-employed people who have never had health insurance before," Keezer said.

Lori Lodes, who directed ACA outreach for the Obama administration, argued that the steep cuts to navigator funding will undoubtedly "mean that fewer people get covered."

"And it's those people who need the most help who will end up paying the price," Lodes noted, saying the cuts will disproportionately harm people with disabilities and immigrant communities.

"Both the navigators and advertising promoting open enrollment have shown they are effective, so by gutting these programs the administration will likely drive down enrollment and poison the ACA marketplaces," added Craig Obey, deputy executive director for Families USA, in a statement on Thursday.

As Common Dreams reported last month, President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to "let Obamacare implode" since his party's deeply unpopular attempt to strip healthcare from over 20 million Americans failed to pass the Senate.

But while the Trump administration cannot say it achieved its goal of fully repealing Obamacare, there is still quite a bit the president can do to weaken the law, from the budget cuts announced Thursday to "massive deregulation."

By making clear he is willing to do both, Trump is not merely "letting the law fail," concluded Claire McAndrew, campaign strategy director at Families USA. He is "making the law fail."

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