Trump administration slashes funds to promote signing up for Obamacare

Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee, center, on Nov. 1, 2015.
Covered California Executive Director Peter V. Lee, center, on Nov. 1, 2015.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

Affirming its disdain for “Obamacare,” the Trump administration Thursday announced sharp cuts in programs promoting healthcare enrollment under the Affordable Care Act for next year.

Advertising will be cut to $10 million, down from $100 million spent on 2017 signups, Health and Human Services officials said. Funding for consumer helpers called “navigators” will also be cut, to $36.8 million for next year from $62.5 million for 2017.

About 12.2 million people signed up for subsidized private health insurance under former President Obama’s signature law, known as the Affordable Care Act, this year. The number enrolled is estimated to be about 10 million, due to attrition also seen in prior years.


Democrats are likely to accuse the administration of trying to undermine the ACA.

President Trump and congressional Republicans have been unable to deliver on their vow to “repeal and replace” the 2010 healthcare law. Trump has repeatedly pronounced the program on the verge of collapse, and he has threatened via Twitter to cut off payments to insurers that help reduce consumers’ copays and deductibles.

Independent observers say the program has problems but is not on the verge of collapse. For next year, all U.S. counties will have at least one participating insurer, although consumers in a growing number of counties will have only one carrier to choose from.

HHS officials announced the promotional cutbacks in a conference call with reporters. None of the three officials who described the details of the cuts wanted to be identified by name.

By comparison, HHS said the combined advertising budget for Medicare Advantage and Medicaid prescription drug plans is $9.7 million.

The administration says that with the ACA advertising and the navigator program, the government hasn’t gotten much bang for its buck.

HHS officials said the 98 navigator programs funded by the ACA enrolled fewer than 82,000 people, or less than 1% of the total.


For next year, officials said navigator funding will reflect each signup center’s prior performance. For example, if a navigator program met 70% of its enrollment target, it will get 70% of its previous funding. If it enrolled only 30%, its funding will be cut to 30%. However, every center is to get some money from the government, even if it’s only a few thousand dollars.

Adding to sign-up challenges, the ACA enrollment season will be considerably shorter for 2018, running from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.