The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) confirmed that it has initiated a review of HHS’ decision to halt advertisements and suspend e-mail and social media outreach in the final days of the 2017 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) open enrollment season. The review was requested by Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) The OIG said the review will include “the timeline, decision-making process, and factors considered by HHS, including any analyses of implications for enrollment and/or expected costs or savings.”
Sabotaging the ACA? In a January letter to the OIG, Murray and Warren noted that HHS’ decision to halt outreach “has been labeled ‘outrageous’ and ‘irresponsible’,” and that “the strength of the ACA marketplaces—which enrolled nearly 13 million people during open enrollment in 2016—depends, in part, on attracting young, healthy enrollees, whose involvement in the marketplaces keeps premium costs down for all enrollees.” The senators also cited significant public confusion about HHS’s actions, including comments from an anonymous HHS spokesman who claimed that canceling advertisements would result in cost savings to taxpayers, despite indications that these advertisements were already paid for.
“I’m glad that there will be an independent review of the Trump Administration’s decision to cut off efforts to enroll people in the ACA,” Senator Warren said. “President Trump and congressional Republicans have made clear that their priorities include destroying the protection that ACA gives millions of families. HHS’ move to halt outreach for ACA enrollment could contribute to weakening health care marketplaces and raising costs for hard working people across the country.”
“Secretary Price has a duty to provide the public with accurate and timely information so that they can make decisions about their health care,” said Sen. Patty Murray. “I’m glad this investigation is underway, and I am going to continue to hold Secretary Price and Republicans accountable for any and all efforts to create Trumpcare by sabotaging our health care system and undermining families’ access to care they need.”
AHCA not ready for vote. Of course “Trumpcare” suffered a tremendous blow when Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on March 23 announced that the American Health Care Act, aimed at repealing and replacing “Obamacare,” would not be called up for vote due to Republican disagreement that would prevent the AHCA from getting enough votes to pass in the House.
Where does that leave us? Representative Bobby Scott (D-Va.) called the failed vote a “victory for health care security for millions of families.” He labeled the AHCA “a bad deal for the American people,” and said that even those who oppose the ACA recognized the serious flaws in the Republican plan. The AHCA, by every measure, made things worse, “by increasing the number of uninsured, forcing almost everyone else to pay more for less, while giving a huge tax cut to the wealthy,” according to Scott.
Speaking on the House floor, Scott said, “As we talk about the Affordable Care Act, I think it is important to remind ourselves of the situation before it the law was passed. Costs were going through the roof, people with pre-existing conditions could not get insurance, women were paying more than men, and every year millions of people were losing their insurance.
“We passed the Affordable Care Act and since then, the costs have continued to go up, but at the lowest rate in 50 years. Those with pre-existing conditions can get insurance at the standard rate, women are no longer paying more than men, and instead of millions of people losing insurance every year, 20 million more people now have insurance.”
It’s not over yet, though. The AHCA may not remain on the front burner in the short term, but it’s likely not over yet. “We made a promise to deliver the free-market, patient-centered health care reforms the American people deserve, and today’s actions do not change our determination to keep our promise,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said in a statement. “We will continue to advance solutions that provide relief to the millions of hardworking men and women struggling under the consequences of Obamacare. We will continue to fight for policies that will lower costs, expand coverage, and rescue a health care system that is collapsing. And we will continue working to ensure all Americans have access to the high-quality, affordable health care that they and their families need. I commend Speaker Ryan for his strong leadership and look forward to working closely with him in the weeks ahead.”
“The House decision today not to vote changes nothing about the urgency of rescuing 230,000 Tennesseans who buy insurance on Obamacare exchanges that our state insurance commissioner has said ‘are very near collapse,’” warned Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “Unless Congress and the President act soon, these Tennesseans—some of the most vulnerable citizens in our state—are likely to have zero choices of insurance in 2018. Millions of Americans in other states are facing the same dire circumstances. Congress has a responsibility to continue its work to solve this problem and to give more Americans more choices of lower-cost health insurance.”
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