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HHS Restores Obamacare Guidance on Outreach to Latinos

Agency stresses that career staff control website, encouraging enrollment.

A week after a transparency group spotted its removal, a guidance document on how to encourage Latino Americans to enroll in Obamacare has been restored on the website of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project, which has been monitoring many agency sites to spot unannounced policy-related changes by the Trump administration, reported on Thursday that the missing document was restored to HealthCare.gov's "Apply for Health Insurance" page.

The change came after a Dec. 10 letter to CMS Administrator Seema Verma from Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev. Sunlight project chief Rachel Bergman reported the document’s return.

In response, a CMS spokesperson on Friday told Government Executive that “under the leadership of Administrator Verma, the Trump Administration has never wavered from its strong commitment to best serve consumers in need of healthcare coverage. Our top priority is to provide a seamless consumer experience and ensure HealthCare.gov consumers have the resources to select a health plan that best fits their individual needs.”

Without confirming the restoration, the agency stressed, as it has before, that it “routinely performs updates and maintenance of content on all CMS websites, which sometimes includes the revision and removal of content that is not current or is underutilized. This website update process is generally managed and implemented by agency career staff and is not influenced or directed by political leadership.”  

Other Trump-era outreach efforts, CMS said, include public statements from the administrator and HHS secretary, listing the Obamacare call center phone number on every page of HealthCare.gov, more than 600 million emails to consumers to remind them of the 2019 Open enrollment deadline, and outreach actions from HHS national and 10 regional offices to more than 4,000 national and local television, radio and print media, including Spanish language media outlets. “We are encouraging consumers to consider all of their options and have worked to make multiple avenues available for consumers to enroll,” the statement said.  

Separately on Friday, the Huffington Post reported on internal emails from Trump appointees at HHS in 2017 calculating the impact on enrollment under the Affordable Care Act if Trump proceeded with plans—later executed—to cut the budgets for advertising and enrollment counseling provided by “navigators.”

Planning documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the advocacy group Democracy Forward showed that one contractor had predicted the cuts in the advertising budget would cause enrollment to fall by 100,000.

Verma, in October, said in a speech that she rejects the argument made by many Democrats that the Trump administration is seeking to “sabotage” Obamacare, arguing instead that the controversial law—which has risen in popularity in recent years—was failing on its own.

The Huffington Post pointed to a recent tally showing that signups for 2019 are down 11.7 percent over last year.

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