Trump just took a big step in undermining Obamacare

President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss transition plans in the White House Oval Office in Washington, U.S., November 10, 2016.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The Trump administration is taking a big step toward undermining the Obamacare exchanges for 2018.

The budget for outreach to encourage people to sign up for 2018 insurance through the Obamacare exchanges will be sliced by a total of $116.5 million, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Typically the Obama administration poured money into outreach during the open enrollment period – the few months out of the year that people could sign up for health insurance for the coming year – to help get as many people covered as possible.

But the budget for advertisements encouraging enrollment will be reduced dramatically this year – to $10 million, down from $100 million in 2016, according to HHS. Additionally, the budget for the Navigator program, which trains people to assist others in signing up for coverage, will be cut to $36 million from $62.5 million last year.

A release from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that new funding levels were determined “based on previous evaluation of past Exchange outreach efforts.”

Increasing enrollment is a big step to ensure that younger, healthy people sign up for coverage. This not only provides them with insurance, but it helps balance out the risk pool, keeps costs down for all enrollees, and mitigates losses for insurers participating in the exchanges.

If enrollment declines, it could lead to higher costs for Americans and an uptick in the uninsured rate according to Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at The Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy think tank.

“There’s little question that cutting back on outreach and advertising will result in more people uninsured,” said Levitt. “Those who fail to sign up will be healthier than average, which will cause the risk pool to deteriorate and premiums to rise. This is not a signal that the administration is trying to make the law succeed.”

The moves come after the Trump administration already slashed the length of open enrollment in half. It is now from November 1 to December 15. In past years, open enrollment ran from the start of November to the end of January.

The move was swiftly condemned by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“The Trump administration is deliberately attempting to sabotage our health care system,” Schumer said in a statement. “When the number of people with health insurance declines and costs skyrocket, the American people will know who’s to blame.”