Transparency group flags unannounced changes, which the department defends as reorganizing material.
Educational and enrollment materials relating to contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act were removed from the Health and Human Services Department’s website early in the Trump administration, a new study found.
The latest in the ongoing agency website monitoring by the Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project tracked the removal of a collection of 10 pages dealing with Title X family planning by HHS’s Office of Population Affairs, sometime between April and May 2017.
The project analysts link the changes—done without public notice—to rules the Trump administration later proposed to “roll back the ACA contraceptive coverage mandate,” they wrote in a blogpost. HHS officials dispute the group’s characterization.
The Title X grants administered by the population office go out to groups that serve some 4 million, primarily low-income, women seeking contraception.
“Prior to the removals, the main page of the collection of ACA-related pages was accessible from the sidebar of the Title X website, via a link with the text ‘Affordable Care Act,’ ” the project analysts wrote. Those webpages included information about family planning and contraceptive coverage, the Obamacare health insurance exchanges and available grants. But using the current website and an Internet archive, the project’s staff determined that the URLs now lead the user to a “Page not found” message.
The analysts acknowledge that some of the material can be found on other HHS webpages, such as those dealing with “Women’s Preventive Services.” But seven of the 10 pages, they concluded, were no longer available. And, they argued, “Contraception-related content on the `Women’s Preventive Services’ page is presented under the broad header of ‘preventive services,’ which includes services beyond family planning, such as prenatal care and screenings for breast and cervical cancers.”
Also, the “Women’s Preventive Services” page does not include information from the “Contraceptive Coverage” page about the “proven health benefits” of contraception and the specific forms of contraception to which the ACA ensures access,” they wrote. In effect, they concluded, “the ‘Women’s Preventive Services’ page buries information about contraception and de-emphasizes contraception in prevention and family planning.”
An HHS spokesperson, in a Wednesday statement emailed to Government Executive, said the material “was not removed, but rather reorganized” in keeping with federal records practices to “keep content relevant.”
The department is “always looking at ways to provide users content in a way they can find it and many changes that we make are based on usability testing and analytics,” the statement said. “As is standard website management practice, the Office of Population Affairs regularly reviews and reorganizes the content on the OPA website in an effort to keep the website current, informative and navigable.” That office “assesses the analytics of its website and the potential impact before making any significant changes, such as removing a webpage.”
The website managers generally remove pages that draw “minimal” visitors, the statement added. “Whenever possible, OPA website redirects are placed to guide visitors to related content so the missing page does not produce a 404 error message.”
On Wednesday, as the Web Integrity Project was prepared to release its report, it found that HHS was restoring some links to redirect users to four of the 10 previously removed pages.