Editorial: The Trump administration is using Obamacare marketing dollars to attack Obamacare

Tom Price, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, applauds legislation to roll back the Affordable Care Act at a press conference in Washington on May 4.
(Cheriss May / TNS)

President Trump keeps saying Obamacare will fail on its own. So why is his administration trying so hard to kill it?

The latest effort was uncovered by the Daily Beast website, which reported Thursday that Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services was dipping into its “consumer information and outreach” budget — money Congress provided to encourage people to obtain insurance through Obamacare — to produce nearly two dozen YouTube videos blasting the law as burdensome and harmful.

That’s certainly a novel interpretation of “outreach.” Worse, the Affordable Care Act isn’t necessarily to blame for the sometimes heartrending problems cited by the consumers in the videos. For example, one person complained about potentially staggering out-of-pocket costs he thought he faced, unaware that the healthcare law caps them at a far lower level. Another said the act’s Medicaid expansion steered money to “able-bodied adults” at the expense of her special-needs son, when the real cause of her son’s benefit cuts was the huge budget deficit in her home state of Illinois.

Republicans have been undermining the healthcare law since day one.


Sadly, using Obamacare marketing dollars to make what amounts to a series of Obamacare attack ads is no more cynical than the refusal by the administration and the GOP-controlled Congress to repay insurers for the roughly $7 billion in subsidies the law requires them to provide — at the federal government’s expense — to help low-income Americans with their out-of-pocket healthcare costs. Or the Internal Revenue Service making it easier to evade the act’s requirement that adult Americans obtain coverage, thereby inviting younger, healthier people to go uninsured. Insurers say those two steps alone are driving up premiums and reducing competition in the market for people not covered by a large employer’s health plan.

And that’s just this year. Republicans have been undermining the healthcare law since day one, adopting policies that depressed enrollment (particularly of healthier adults) and increased insurers’ losses instead of working to promote competition, simplify choices and hold down deductibles for basic services, as California has done.

It’s also richly ironic for the Health and Human Services Department to use its marketing dollars to castigate Obamacare for problems that the Republican repeal-and-replace bills would only exacerbate. One video features a 61-year-old man complaining about higher premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, but the GOP bills would allow insurers to assign more of their costs to older consumers than Obamacare permits. Other videos spotlight consumers who need coverage for specialized care, which the GOP proposals could make prohibitively expensive or even unavailable.

Regardless of what Congress or the administration does about the Affordable Care Act, it’s in everyone’s interest to persuade more people to sign up for insurance. Having bigger, broader risk pools spreads costs and lowers premiums. It’s bad enough that the administration has proposed to cut its outreach budget by more than 20%. It shouldn’t be wasting the money it has encouraging people to go uninsured.

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