Charles Dharapak/AP file photo

HHS Quietly Deletes Guidance on Recruiting Latinos to Obamacare

Latest monitoring of CMS website changes comes after Trump cuts in "navigator" program.

Again without public notice, the Health and Human Services Department-based Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services removed from its website materials that critics believe remain current and relevant to administration of the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Last September—two months before the new enrollment period for Obamacare—CMS deleted a PDF titled “Marketplace Outreach: Best Practices for Outreach to Latino Communities” from the health insurance section of the website, according to an analysis released on Thursday by the Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project.

The guidance for years has been part of CMS’s “Navigators” program, which provides trained counselors in 34 states to help eligible Americans enroll in health insurance plans. The Trump administration has sought to curb the program. CMS Administrator Seema Verma in July said the program was ineffective and had outlived its usefulness.

The training source in the form of a slide presentation, said reviewers at the Web Integrity Project, “had still-accurate information” and was taken down before the start of Open Enrollment. “The slides included information about the challenges Latinos might face when enrolling for coverage, such as fear of immigration enforcement, and best practices for assistance, such as making services culturally and linguistically appropriate,” said project director Rachel Bergman, who conducted the research using, in part, the Internet “Way Back Machine” to obtain deleted web pages. A link corresponding to the PDF was removed from two webpages on the CMS website: the “Training for navigators, agents, brokers and other assisters” page and the special populations page, the project said.

A CMS spokesperson told Government Executive on Thursday that “CMS routinely performs updates and maintenance of, which sometimes includes the revision and removal of content that is not current or underutilized. This ongoing process is managed and implemented by agency career staff and is not influenced or directed by political leadership,” the agency said. “In this instance, the slide presentation contained outdated information and the page was archived in September of this year.” 

The Web Integrity Project disagreed. With the exception of one bullet point that referenced the “now-eliminated individual mandate” for purchasing health coverage, the group said in a blogpost, “the information in the PDF remains accurate and relevant to assisters. In fact, another document on the website, the 'September Marketplace Update for Assisters' PDF,” published in September 2017 with information relevant to assisters, still includes a link to the removed PDF, noting that the best practices “identified in the slide presentation” are examples of how to “model targeted outreach efforts” to other populations.