Trump Administration Slashes ‘Obamacare’ Sign-Up Assistance

WASHINGTON (CN) – The federal agency tasked with supporting nonprofit programs that help enroll people in the Affordable Health Care Act has cut funding for 2019 – the third year in a row for such cuts.

In a statement published on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Administrator Seema Verma announced the 2019 funding totals of $10 million, down from $36 million in 2018 and $63 million in 2017.

This money had historically gone to nonprofit “navigators” which offer support for those shopping for healthcare on the exchange.

The statement went on to point to more successful agent and broker assisted programs which they said accounted for 42 percent of enrollment in 2018, about $2.40 per signup, while navigator programs enroll about 100 people at an average cost of $5,000 per person.

“It’s time for the Navigator program to evolve, which is why we are announcing a new direction for the program today,” Verma said, explaining last year’s enrollment was the “most cost effective and successful open enrollment to date” and the need for government funded nonprofits to aid with enrollment was lessened thanks to the notoriety of the program itself.

“This decision reflects CMS’ commitment to put federal dollars for the Federally-facilitated Exchanges to their most cost effective use in order to better support consumers through the enrollment process,” Verma added.

Republicans said the move is good news and shows the Trump Administration is cutting the fat from what they say is a bloated federal program.

“The administration is doing exactly the right thing by reducing administrative red tape,” said Corey Stewart, a GOP for Senate in Virginia. “This has always been the problem with federal healthcare programs; there’s never enough money going to the healthcare to treat patients and there’s too much money going to bureaucrats.”

Stewart has argued against the federal healthcare exchange, but his opponent in this year’s race, incumbent Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, said this week’s move continues a trend by President Trump to sabotage a program millions rely on.

“The Trump Administration has taken yet another action that will make it harder and more expensive for Virginians to access quality health care,” Kaine said in a statement sent to Courthouse News. He called the move shortsighted. “Despite us asking them not to do this, the Trump Administration is cutting funding that simply allows non-profit organizations … to help people attain health insurance.”

Kaine was one of 17 senators who sent a letter to the agency in late June when plans to cut navigator funding were first announced.

“Navigators typically assist underserved populations such as individuals with limited English proficiency, complex financial circumstances, and those eligible for Medicaid,” the letter said. The senators going on to say the nonprofit support programs are “vital” to those who need it. “Therefore, it is possible that the representation of underserved populations enrolled in health care coverage decreases as a result of the decline in Navigator funding.”

The letter also questioned the accuracy of the agency’s internal numbers, saying it “never fully explained what metrics were used in the formula.” The senators said they were never informed how metrics and datasets were communicated to and collected by the non profits.

In addition to cutting program funding, the agency has changed some rules for navigators. They will no longer have to maintain physical locations in services areas which aims to lower costs. New funding requirements include include submitting written progress reports and urging them to utilize volunteers and strategic partnerships to help meet goals for enrollment.

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