WASHINGTON — Affirming its disdain for "Obamacare," the Trump administration on Thursday announced sharp cuts in programs promoting health care enrollment under the Affordable Care Act for next year.
Advertising will be cut from $100 million spent on 2017 sign-ups to $10 million, said Health and Human Services officials. Funding for consumer helpers called "navigators" will also be cut, from $62.5 million for 2017, to $36.8 million for next year.
About 12.2 million people signed up for subsidized private health insurance under former President Barack Obama's signature law this year. The number currently enrolled is estimated to be around 10 million, due to attrition also seen in prior years.
Democrats are likely to accuse the administration of trying to undermine the ACA.
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President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have been unable to deliver on their vow to "repeal and replace" the 2010 health care law. Trump has repeatedly pronounced the program on the verge of collapse, and 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 insurers, although consumers in a growing number of counties will only have one carrier to pick 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.
The administration says the government hasn't gotten much bang for its buck as far as ACA advertising and the navigator program, with some enrollment centers signing up very few customers.
By comparison, HHS said the combined advertising budget for Medicare Advantage and Medicaid prescription drug plans is $9.7 million.
HHS officials said the 98 navigator programs funded by the ACA enrolled fewer than 82,000 people, or less than 1 percent of the total.
For next year, officials said navigator funding will reflect each sign-up center's prior performance. For example, if a navigator program met 70 percent of its enrollment target, it will get 70 percent of its previous funding. If it only enrolled 30 percent, its funding will be cut to 30 percent. However, every center will 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-Dec. 15.