(Bloomberg) — U.S. health officials haven’t completely stopped promoting the Affordable Care Act public exchange system, as e-mail and Twitter reminders for consumers to sign up for the HealthCare.gov health coverage were sent a day after millions of dollars in government advertising were pulled.
A neon tweet flashing the Jan. 31 deadline for purchasing 2017 health plans appeared Friday on the Twitter account of HealthCare.gov. The account had been quiet most of Thursday, when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it withdrew about $5 million of advertising that was intended to encourage people to sign up for insurance through HealthCare.gov.
The ACA open enrollment period system applies both to individual health coverage purchased through the ACA exchange system and coverage purchased outside the exchange system, but HHS has been especially active at promoting the need for HealthCare.gov users to sign up for coverage by Tuesday.
“Come back to HealthCare.gov and submit your application right away,” an e-mail sent Friday said.
Withdrawing the ads could depress individual health insurance enrollment. Lagging ACA enrollment could jeopardize the stability of the health insurance market, America’s Health Insurance Plans, a Washington-based industry group, said Friday.
“We need as many people as possible to participate,” the group said in an e-mail. Many major insurers have already left at least some states’ individual health insurance markets after incurring financial losses.
Looking for efficiencies
Trump, who campaigned on a promise to repeal Obamacare, signed an executive order on his first day in office directing federal agencies to work to minimize the law’s economic and regulatory burdens.
“The federal government has spent more than $60 million promoting the open enrollment period,” Matt Lloyd, an HHS spokesman, said Thursday in an e-mail. “HHS has pulled back roughly $5 million of the final placement in an effort to look for efficiencies where they exist.”
Politico reported the withdrawals earlier Thursday, saying the advertising had already been paid for by the Obama administration. Lloyd said the $5 million would be returned to the government.
Kevin Counihan, the former chief executive officer of the federal HealthCare.gov enrollment site, said the move risks lowering enrollment for 2017. That’s because many people sign up right at the deadline, he said in an e-mail.
“We know that more young people enroll during the final days of open enrollment, but they need to be reminded of the Jan. 31 deadline,” he said. “Having health insurance is still law of the land. If the president and Republicans in Congress want to change that, they should come up with a plan and show it to the American people.”
Robert Laszewski, a health care consultant who’s critical of the ACA, called the move to halt the advertising “short-sighted.”
“Doing this just gives Obamacare advocates ammunition to later say Obamacare failed not because it was deeply flawed but because the Republicans killed it,” he said. “If the Republicans believe Obamacare is failing, then just let it fail and let it be clear it failed because it was flawed, not because the Republicans sabotaged it.”
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