A new investigation from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released Thursday morning found that several Trump administration actions depressed enrollment in the Affordable Care Act marketplace during last fall’s open enrollment period.
The independent, non-partisan analysis concluded that several Trump administration policy changes contributed to the decline in signups, including the deep cuts to the outreach and advertising budget, and a sharp reduction in funding for navigator groups that help people enroll.
HHS cut funding for navigator organizations by 42 percent, and GAO reports that the agency allocated the funding to the groups in different states “using data that it acknowledged were not reliable in December 2016.”
“The lack of quality data may affect HHS’s ability to effectively manage the navigator program,” the report said.
The report also details how the Trump administration’s decision to cut off Cost-Sharing Reduction (CSR) payments to insurers drove up premiums for millions of unsubsidized consumers, pricing many out of the market altogether. The report noted that the Trump administration’s negative public statements about the ACA sowed mass confusion and deterred many from signing up.
The GAO report also faulted HHS for what they did not do. Primarily, the agency did not set an enrollment target for signups, as the Obama administration did each year. The GAO said HHS rejected its recommendation to set enrollment targets for this fall.
These actions and non-actions, combined, contributed to an enrollment of about 5 percent between 2017 and 2018.
The Democratic lawmakers who requested the GAO study — Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), and Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Bob Casey (D-PA) — released a statement Thursday calling the findings “a wakeup call.”
“This independent and nonpartisan GAO report confirms that the Trump Administration’s sabotage of our health care system is driving up costs for consumers and leaving more Americans without health insurance,” the lawmakers wrote. “It’s not surprising that consumers were confused about the status of the ACA at the end of last year, which made the extreme cuts to consumer outreach and advertising that much more egregious.”