This story has been updated to reflect new reporting that HHS on Friday afternoon resumed sending enrollment-related emails.
With the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) enrollment deadline just days away, the Trump administration is pulling last-minute advertisements that seek to encourage people to sign up for exchange plans, according to sources at HHS and on Capitol Hill, Politico reports.
The ACA's current open enrollment period started Nov. 1, 2016, and ends Tuesday, Jan. 31. HHS has projected 13.8 million individuals will select plans through the state or federal exchanges this open enrollment period, up from 12.7 million who selected plans during the last open enrollment period.
CMS earlier this month said more than 11.5 million U.S. residents had signed up for plans through the federal and state-run exchanges as of Dec. 24, 2016. The exchanges typically experience a surge in sign-ups just before the enrollment deadline, the New York Times reports.
Trump admin pulls ads
An HHS spokesperson on Thursday said the department has withdrawn about $5 million in ad placements intended to run over the next few days "in an effort to look for efficiencies, where they exist." The spokesperson said the department has spent more than $60 million to promote this year's open enrollment period.
Sources familiar with the situation said the decision to pull the ads came from the White House, Politico reports. Further, according to Politico, some of the ads that were pulled already had been paid for under the Obama administration.
The move does not affect consumers' ability to sign up for coverage. HealthCare.gov still is accessible and accepting applications, and as of Thursday night the federal enrollment call center was still operating, the Washington Post reports.
According to the Times, HHS as of Thursday was still sending "Final Deadline" emails to consumers that read, "Our records show that you still need to submit a 2017 application—before the final deadline on Jan. 31."
However, Politico on Thursday reported that HHS had stopped sending emails to consumers who visited HealthCare.gov but did not finish the sign-up process. On Friday late afternoon, Politico reported that "HealthCare.gov resumed sending emails [Friday] afternoon reminding people to enroll in Obamacare, one day after the Trump administration said it was stopping outreach ... HHS did not respond to a request for comment this afternoon about whether it had reversed its decision."
Move draws criticism
Kevin Counihan, former CEO of HealthCare.gov under the Obama administration, accused the Trump administration of trying to "sabotage open enrollment." He said, "We know that more young people enroll during the final days of open enrollment, but they need to be reminded of the Jan. 31 deadline."
Josh Peck, who had served as chief marketing officer for Healthcare.gov under the Obama administration, said HHS did extensive research to identify the most effective outreach efforts. "One of the most effective things we do in the final days is to email people, just to let them know the date of the deadline. That's all bought and paid for already. Taxpayers will not save a single cent by not sending emails in those final days. I can't fathom what claim of efficiency can be involved there," Peck said.
Ron Pollack—executive director of the consumer advocacy group Families USA, which strongly supports the ACA—called the move "a mean-spirited effort that can only result in fewer people getting coverage who need it."
Topher Spiro, vice president for Health Policy at the Center for American Progress, said the Trump administration is "deliberately trying to undermine enrollment which was growing" (Demko, Politico, 1/26; Pear, New York Times, 1/26; Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/27; Sullivan, The Hill, 1/26; Howell, Washington Times, 1/26; Goldstein, Washington Post, 1/26; Cohn, Huffington Post, 1/26; Pradhan, Politico, 1/27).
Navigating the first 100 days of the Trump administration
On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in an unexpected upset to become the 45th president of the United States. Health care reform has since quickly risen to the top of the GOP's policy agenda—and heath care executives are grappling with a new sense of uncertainty.
While many unknowns will remain across the next few months and potentially even years, the first 100 days of the Trump administration will provide significant insight into the direction of reform efforts. Read our briefing to learn what five key issues you should watch.