President Trump’s devoted Affordable Care Act saboteurs took another swipe at the program late Tuesday, slashing funds for outreach programs to a bare $10 million for 2019.
Just two years ago, before Trump took office, the funding for the so-called Navigator program was $63 million. Last year, Trump cut that sum to $36 million, while also slashing the ACA’s marketing and advertising budget by 90%.
As we reported just Monday, this is part of the administration’s policy of damaging the Affordable Care Act by a thousand administrative cuts. It’s the Republicans’ alternative to doing what they found to be impossible, which was repealing the law via an actual vote in Congress. It’s an entirely discreditable process that sends premiums higher in the individual market and actually drives up costs for the federal government while also burdening middle-class households that aren’t cushioned from the premium increases by federal subsidies.
The Navigators are individuals or organizations trained to help consumers work their way through the often complex offerings on the ACA exchanges. Their services are funded through the federal government and free to consumers. Navigators say they find their services especially crucial in rural areas and among disadvantaged communities, including those who aren’t fully conversant in English.
As is typical of the administration’s approach, it explained its decision to decimate Navigator funding with a cynical assertion that the ACA exchanges are “now an established marketplace for individuals seeking insurance. … As the Exchange has grown in visibility and become more familiar to Americans seeking health insurance, the need for federally funded Navigators has diminished.”
None of that is true, or pertinent. Previous acts of Trumpian sabotage of the ACA has made Navigator-type help even more important for some consumers. The claim that the ACA is now established enough for customers to need less assistance is highly dubious, as any corporate marketing expert knows: Even Coca-Cola, owner of the best-known brand name in the world, spends $12 billion a year on advertising and marketing, more than a third of its annual revenue.
Consumer advocates and Democrats in Congress were properly appalled at the administration’s latest act of sabotage. “This is a cold-hearted decision that will only serve to hurt people,” Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, stated.
The slashing of Navigator funding comes on the heels of a raft of other malevolent actions aimed at the ACA. Over the weekend, the administration suspended a risk-adjustment program, placing in doubt more than $10 billion in payments expected by insurers for covering sicker-than-expected populations.
Trump officials also are planning to push customers into cheaper junk insurance plans, siphoning healthier customers out of the pool for qualified plans with full consumer protections, a move that will drive up premiums for those remaining in the market. And the administration has abandoned its defense in federal court of the ACA’s protections for Americans with preexisting medical conditions, forcing a coalition of states to step in with a defense.