Our Opinion: ACA enrollment - less time, fewer resources and very little news

If you have visited health.gov to get information on the 2018 open enrollment period for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, we share your frustration.

We visited the site ourselves and couldn't find the dates anywhere. We had to resort to entering the terms "2018 open enrollment period" and "Obamacare" into Google to find the link — https://www.healthcare.gov/quick-guide/dates-and-deadlines. We learned, via the quick guide (good luck finding that on health.gov) that the open enrollment period runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15, 45 days fewer than the 2017 enrollment period.

Along with obscuring the actual dates of enrollment and reducing the time period to enroll, the Health and Human Services department said it would cut the Affordable Care Act's advertising budget by 90 percent, to $10 million. According to Bloomberg, the administration is also cutting funding for the "navigator" program, which provides funding to local groups to help people select the most appropriate plan for themselves and their families. "The administration said the navigators received $62.5 million last year, while signing up 81,426 people, and funding for this year will be reduced by 39 percent," noted Bloomberg. "Those who have studied the law or helped run it say ... such drastic reductions look like efforts to let the program wither, as Trump has threatened, two months before sign-ups open."

While the Trump administration contends the Obamacare ads are ineffective, it hadn't formally studied them.

"It seems perfectly appropriate to review outreach efforts and see if they can be done more efficiently, but these cuts are quite large," Larry Levitt, of the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Bloomberg. "There's no doubt that cuts to outreach and advertising will result in more people uninsured."

Paul Shafer and Stacie Dusetzina, writing for Health Affairs, noted by making the enrollment period shorter, the administration may have created "additional uncertainty for consumers. This is particularly true if efforts to diminish outreach and enrollment assistance late in the 2017 open enrollment period are carried forward to 2018."

While it's true that fewer individuals would be expected to be new enrollees, "By reducing the length of open enrollment, inertia may result in consumers staying in less than optimal plans (e.g., too comprehensive for their needs, more expensive than a comparable competing plan), blunting the effect of insurer competition."

Their findings suggest that reducing the length of the open enrollment period in 2018 may cause as much or more harm for consumers (e.g., reduced plan switching among re-enrollees, lower enrollment among those eligible but previously uninsured) than any potential reduction in adverse selection for insurers.

As noted by The Daily Journal, "Having so far failed to kill off the Affordable Care Act through conventional means, such as new federal legislation, the Trump administration has resorted to letting the health law slowly be starved by a lack of funding and support. The strategy of cutting off funding in hopes that a program will eventually become so inefficient that it can't survive is not a new one, but in this case it is particularly heartless because it aims to hurt a policy that remains popular with millions of Americans who never had health insurance before."

"There's a clear pattern of the administration trying to undermine and sabotage the Affordable Care Act," said Elizabeth Hagen, associate director of coverage initiatives for the liberal advocacy group Families USA. "It's not letting the law fail, it's making it fail."

Fortunately, states are picking up the slack. Now that you know when the enrollment period starts and ends, visit http://info.healthconnect.vermont.gov/directory/navigator?field_county_tid=All to find a local health care navigator who can help you, well, navigate the straits of enrollment. The Granite State also has resources at https://www.nh.gov/insurance/consumers/mp_plans.htm.

Thirty years ago, Grover Norquist said "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." While fiscal conservatives have failed at this attempt, they continue to try, and the current administration is their vehicle to finally obtain their holy grail. That's why the GOP has been issuing wonderful proclamations in opposition to almost all of Trump's horrendous announcements, but not actually doing anything to oppose him, never mind coming up with solutions to what ails this nation other than tax cuts for the rich.


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