Starting the first night of Trump’s presidency, according to a new report from the pro-transparency Sunlight Foundation’s Web Integrity Project, the Department of Health and Human Services “has surgically removed the term ‘Affordable Care Act’ from many webpages; taken down information on rights guaranteed under the ACA; eliminated statistics and data on the ACA’s impact; and removed links to the federal government’s main platform for enrolling in ACA coverage, HealthCare.gov.”
All of this, the report said, was detected during an ongoing review of a couple dozen HHS websites; the agency has hundreds of such sites under its control in total. The foundation said the 26 examples cited in Wednesday’s report — found everywhere from Medicaid.gov to HealthCare.gov to the Office of Minority Health’s website — “may represent the tip of the censorship iceberg.”
In a statement responding to the report, an HHS spokesperson told TPM that “the accusations and conclusions expressed by the Sunlight Foundation and others are not supported by the facts.” (Read the full statement below.)
Even before the Republicans’ tax bill removed the so-called “individual mandate” from Obamacare, the Trump administration and its allies in Congress sought to sabotage the law. They’ve cut subsidies to insurers used to lower costs for poor people, shortened enrollment periods, slashed outreach and advertising budgets and simply refused to defend the law in court. The website changes mark yet another sabotage effort, the report asserted.
The detailed report noted the dates of changes and the impacts on each potential audience who might miss out on health care information. For example, several alterations were made affecting “navigators and assisters,” who help potential insurance purchasers navigate the health care market.
In one change, the report noted, a PDF titled “Marketplace Outreach: Best Practices for Outreach to Latino Communities,” which laid out strategies and unique challenges of enrolling Latino Americans, was removed entirely. Several days after the Sunlight Foundation initially noted the removal in December, the slideshow was restored without explanation.
In another instance, “Text was removed [from the HHS website] stating that women cannot be charged more for health insurance than men under the ACA.” Separately, more text “was removed stating that women cannot be denied or charged more for health insurance because of their gender under the ACA.”
And though Republicans calling for Obamacare’s repeal often claim to support “access” to insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, edits to MentalHealth.gov indicate otherwise. “Text was removed explaining that health plans cannot deny individuals coverage or charge them more for having pre-existing conditions, including mental illnesses,” the report found.
Read the full report here. Read HHS’ full statement responding to the Sunlight Foundation below:
“HHS routinely reviews and updates online content, which may include revision or removal of content that is no longer current, underutilized, or available elsewhere. When HHS.gov updates its pages, information that has moved off of the current site is still available to the public through archives. Furthermore, information regarding the ACA is still readily available on HHS platforms, and HHS has consistently worked to improve the open enrollment process while also providing Americans with more options to find care and coverage that fits their needs. The accusations and conclusions expressed by the Sunlight Foundation and others are not supported by the facts that under the Trump Administration insurance markets have shown greater stability, premiums have come down, options have increased, and enrollment in the ACA has remained relatively stable.”
(Pictured above: Affordable Care Act navigator Nini Hadwen (R) speaks with Jorge Hernandez (L) and Marta Aguirre as they shop for health insurance during a navigation session put on by the Epilepsy Foundation Florida to help people sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act on October 8, 2013 in Miami, Florida.)
This post has been updated.