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These People Won't Let Obamacare Die

by Benjy Sarlin /  / Updated 
Image: President Obama Campaigns With Hillary Clinton In Charlotte
President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally with democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 5, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file

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WASHINGTON — As evidence mounts that the Trump administration is undermining next month’s Obamacare enrollment period, veterans of the previous administration are planning a parallel effort to sign people up for health insurance.

The new group, Get America Covered, is led by Lori Lodes and Josh Peck, who both worked on enrollment efforts under Obama. Other participants include Van Jones, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Andy Slavitt, former insurance CEO Mario Molina, and actors Bradley Whitford and Alyssa Milano.

Open enrollment begins on November 1 and ends December 15, down from last year’s three-month enrollment period. People who don’t sign up will be unable to buy individual insurance through Obamacare, and possibly receive subsidies to pay for it, until the next enrollment period unless they have a qualifying life event, like losing a job, having a child or getting divorced.

"The thing we are most focused on is people understanding the very basic facts," Lodes told NBC News. "There’s a deadline, you have to sign up by December 15, and coverage is more affordable than you think."

As Obamacare’s open enrollment period approaches, accusations of White House sabotage are flying fast.

Trump has long criticized the health care program created by his predecessor, which he tried to repeal without success throughout the year. But his administration is also in charge of running the program and he’s repeatedly suggested Republicans might benefit if he decides to "let Obamacare fail" under his watch.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced it would cut ad spending by 90 percent and is also slashing the budget for "navigators" who help people sign up. Insurers have already raised premiums in many states for 2018, with regulators, industry analysts and carriers blaming Trump and Congress for their ambiguous stance on whether they’ll make cost-sharing reduction payments insurers are owed for lowering deductibles.

"I don’t think anyone was prepared for them to go as hard as they did and to be as transparent as they were about their motivations," Lodes said.

Analysts say insurers also are pricing in concerns that the White House will not enforce the individual mandate to purchase insurance or will deliberately discourage signups next year.

It’s not clear what effect the departure of former HHS Secretary Tom Price, an ardent Obamacare opponent who resigned amid criticism over his use of private planes, will have on the agency’s approach moving forward. Trump has not yet nominated a successor.

While Lodes stressed that the new outside push is no substitute for government enrollment efforts, she hopes to at least raise awareness with digital advertising, outreach events, educational resources and celebrity appeals.

"We can never fill in all of those gaps, but they’ve also set the bar so incredibly low that there’s a lot we can do to have a large impact," Lodes.

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