Rural Blog: Deep budget cuts for health care ads could hurt rural enrollment in Affordable Care Act

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The Trump administration has announced deep cuts to programs that help people learn about and sign up for health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Department of Health and Human Services officials told reporters that “advertising will be cut to $10 million for the 2018 open enrollment season. That’s down from $100 million for the 2017 sign-up season.

Funding for consumer helpers called ‘navigators’ will also be cut, from $62.5 million for 2017, to about $36 million for next year,” Bertha Coombs reports for CNBC. Navigators are ordinary citizens who have been trained to help people figure out the sometimes complicated ins and outs of signing up for an Obamacare plan.

The move could cause a big drop in enrollment. Washington & Lee University law professor Tim Jost told Sarah Kliff of Vox, “The surest way to kill the exchanges is to keep them a secret. Sick people will find them, but getting younger and healthier people enrolled is the problem.”

Andy Slavitt, former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator under the Obama administration, said that the Trump administration’s decision to cut funding for navigators will hit hardest in poor, rural communities where insurers may not fill in the gap on outreach, Coombs reports.

Slavitt says he believes the administration made the cuts out of a desire to weaken the program.

“These aren’t budget decisions … these are all funds that come out of user fees paid by the insurance companies. This wouldn’t cost the federal government a nickel,” he told Coombs.

Enrollment for 2018 begins Nov. 1 and runs through Dec. 15, a period that the Trump administration made half as long as it was under the Obama administration.

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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