HHS Says It Pulled Ads Promoting Obamacare Enrollment To Cut Costs

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2015, file photo, the HealthCare.gov website, where people can buy health insurance, is displayed on a laptop screen in Washington. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association said in a report released Wednesday, March 30, 2016, health insurers gained a sicker, more expensive patient population through the Affordable Care Act's coverage expansion. Its report offers an early glimpse at customers who have gained coverage in the past couple years. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Andrew Harnik/AP

Update: After publishing the story, the Department of Health and Human Services provided TPM with a revised statement confirming that the department pulled the ads.

“We aren’t going to continue spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars promoting a failed government program. Once an assessment was made, we pulled back the most expensive and least efficient part of this massive ad campaign which was set to run over the weekend. Those costs savings will be returned to the U.S. Treasury,” a spokesperson for HHS said in the statement.

Original story:

Just a few days before the open enrollment period ends for 2017 health insurance plans on the Obamacare exchanges, the Department of Health and Human Services has pulled adds promoting enrollment, the department confirmed to the New York Times on Thursday.

“The federal government has spent more than $60 million promoting the open enrollment period,” an HHS spokesman told the Times on Thursday. “We have pulled back roughly $5 million of the final placement in an effort to look for efficiencies where they exist.”

According to Politico, which first reported that HHS pulled ads and outreach promoting Obamacare enrollment, the order to end the efforts came from the White House. The ads had already been purchased under the Obama administration, according to the report.

As of Thursday morning, the department was still sending emails to consumers urging them to enroll in a plan before the Jan. 31 deadline, according to the New York Times. But, as Politico noted, HHS has not offered an update urging enrollment on its Twitter account since Thursday morning.

The last few days of open enrollment can be critical for health insurance companies. Those who procrastinate on purchasing plans tend to be young and healthy, and the participation of healthy individuals helps keeps costs down.

Advocates of the Affordable Care Act slammed the Trump administration for pulling the ads and warned that the decision could drive up health insurance costs for next year.

“Before January 20, Healthcare.gov enrollment was running ahead of schedule, and more Americans were receiving the security of health insurance than ever before. But the Trump Administration’s outrageous decision tonight to sabotage Open Enrollment will mean coverage could cost more next year and insurers could drop out of the Marketplace,” Kevin Counihan, former CEO of HealthCare.gov, said in a statement. “We know that more young people enroll during the final days of Open Enrollment, but they need to be reminded of the January 31 deadline. Having health insurance is still law of the land. If the President and Republicans in Congress want to change that, they should come up with a plan and show it to the American people, rather than depriving Americans of the chance to sign up for coverage and financial assistance they remain eligible for.”

Leslie Dach, a former HHS official in the Obama administration and director of the Protect Our Care Coalition, called the Trump administration’s decision to pull the ads “sabotage.”

“This proves that this Administration doesn’t care about people who need health coverage. And It clearly shows that they now own the consequences of their efforts to undermine the health care system,” Dach said in a statement.