Open Enrollment Period Facing Tough Challenges Due to Cuts in ACA by Trump Administration

As the open enrollment period for health insurance under the Obamacare marketplace kicks off, many people remain unsure about the future of the Affordable Care Act and whether or not the law is still in effect. In fact, many Americans believe the law was repealed by the Trump administration and have no intention of pursuing healthcare on the open marketplace. According to CNBC.com, almost one in four Americans believe Donald Trump repealed or partially repealed the law. Some Americans believe Trump eliminated Obamacare and replaced it with a new law.

The truth is Obamacare remains intact. However, after many failed attempts by the Republican-led Congress to repeal the law this year, Trump enacted a host of wholesale changes to the ACA. The changes have created a great deal of confusion for the millions of Americans who are currently without health insurance.

In early October, Trump and his team announced they will no longer pay subsidies to health insurance companies. The subsidies paid by the federal government made health insurance available at a lower cost to low-income Americans. According to the White House, it is against the law for the federal government to make subsidy payments, also known as cost-sharing payments. The White House said in early October that the only way to make health insurance affordable for low-income Americans was to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Before the announcement to stop paying subsidies to insurance companies, the Trump administration announced it will expand short-term health insurance products and with fewer coverage options, which usually come from associations that represent small employers. Additionally, the executive order allows states to select coverage from other states.

Another blow to the Affordable Care Act was dealt in August when the Trump administration cut the budget for open enrollment advertising by nearly 90 percent. Critics of Trump and his efforts to repeal the law said the move was the president’s way of interfering with the law so fewer Americans would enroll in health insurance plans from the open marketplace. With fewer Americans enrolling, critics say Trump will use the data and skew it to claim that Obamacare is not working.

According to reports, the Trump administration cut the advertising budget from $100 million last year to only $10 million this year. The White House claims there is no justification for spending that much money on advertising due to very little return. The Trump administration states that coverage for first-time enrollees fell by 42 percent during the 2016-2017 open enrollment period.

The administration also said it does not make sense to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising since most Americans already know about Obamacare and how and when they can enroll. About 12.2 million Americans enrolled or re-enrolled in healthcare plans through the open marketplace in 2017. The administration claims that the number fell to 10.1 million due to some people failing to make their monthly insurance premium payments.

So-called “navigator programs” were hit hard by the sweeping budget cuts. These programs are nonprofit organizations that are trained to help consumers navigate through the complexities of healthcare before they enroll in a plan through the open marketplace. Some of the services they offer include helping Americans complete their enrollment forms and finding the most affordable coverage. Services offered by navigator programs are available year round and they are free.

The Trump administration claims the cuts were necessary since most of these programs are not meeting their targets. Due to the deep reductions in funding for navigator programs, many of them have ceased operations. States hit hardest by the cuts include Michigan, where funding is down by 72 percent, and Ohio, where funding was cut by 71 percent.

The Ohio Association of Foodbanks saw their budget for the navigator program cut from $1.7 million during 2016 to $486,000 in 2017. However, the executive director of the organization, Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, said the organization met every one of its targets and performance metrics. According to Hamler-Fugitt, the organization received no explanation for the dramatic reduction. The Association was forced to stop offering services as a navigator program due to a lack of funding.

Many Trump critics believe the cuts come during a time when navigator programs are needed now more than ever. Since many Americans believe the Affordable Care Act no longer exists, these nonprofit organizations must remain unencumbered by the federal government so they can get the word out. Critics state this is the perfect example of Trump trying to intentionally sabotage Obamacare so he can claim the law is imploding.

Other cuts made by the Trump administration that will have a dramatic impact on the Affordable Care Act include cutting the open enrollment period in half and shutting down the site for maintenance every Sunday during open enrollment. During the 2016-2017 open enrollment period, Americans could enroll in healthcare plans as late as January 31. This year, open enrollment only lasts from November 1 to December 15 nationwide, although some states have varying deadlines. Plans will take effect on January 1 of 2018.

The Trump administration also announced in September that the health insurance exchange website will be down for site maintenance every Sunday except for one, the last Sunday of open enrollment. Although the site was down for maintenance during the Obama administration, it was not down once a week and it was only down for a few hours. Critics state this as another example of the Trump administration trying to intentionally sabotage Obamacare.

What many Americans who need health insurance in 2018 must know is Obamacare is still in effect. Although the Trump administration made deep cuts to the law throughout 2017, the law still exists. Additionally, the individual mandate is still in effect, which requires every American to have minimum essential healthcare coverage in 2018 or face a fine by the IRS. The fine is an additional tax levied by the IRS, and most healthcare experts agree the fines in 2018 will be similar to those imposed in 2017. The minimum penalty in 2017 for not having health insurance was $695 per adult and $347.50 per child.