Just as Obamacare’s individual market seemed to be stabilizing, the Trump administration announced it was slashing funding even further for groups that help low-income people enroll. The annual budget for the ACA’s navigators was about $63 million when President Trump took office. He cut that roughly in half, and just announced a new round of even more severe cuts, bringing the funding down 70 percent, to just $10 million. Those funds have to be spread across the 34 states that use the federal ACA marketplace.
Perhaps more troublingly, the navigators will now be pushed to promote the cheaper, skimpier insurance options recently created by the Trump administration that do not comply with ACA’s protections and regulations, including Association Health Plans and short-term insurance. Such plans are allowed to refuse to cover certain basic medications and services and can charge people more based on their gender, age or health status.
Citing budget cuts, Trump’s HHS is also moving this week to take down Guideline.gov, a database of medical guidelines and research that has been widely used for more than two decades. The announcement stunned the medical community for whom the site was “perhaps the most important repository of evidence-based research available.”
Speaking of HHS’ budget, a new Inspector General report found that former Secretary Tom Price took 20 trips that violated the agency’s rules for spending — out of 21 total trips during his short tenure. The report called the trips “extravagant, careless, or needless” and urged HHS to attempt to get Price to reimburse the government for at least $341,000 in wasted spending.
Meanwhile, the state battles over Medicaid continue to rage, as the Trump administration stays quiet on whether or not it will appeal a federal court ruling against Kentucky’s work requirement program that could impact similar rules in other states.
In Arkansas, as TPM predicted, thousands of low-income residents are now at risk of losing their health coverage after the state implemented the nation’s first-ever Medicaid work requirements. In a state with the second-worst rate of home internet access in the country, the state’s rules now require Medicaid beneficiaries to submit proof online that they had worked at least 80 hours per month. In the first phase of implementation, just for residents ages 30-49 who don’t have an exemption, more than 7,000 residents failed to meet the deadline. If they are unable to meet the requirement for two more months, they will lose coverage for the rest of the year. But the GOP-controlled state government does not appear concerned. The spokesperson for Arkansas’ Human Services Department told local reporters that when it comes to people who depend on Medicaid, “at some point they do have to take some action to keep their coverage.”
But in Ohio, the Republican candidate for Gov. Mike DeWine revealed this week that he does plan to keep the state’s Medicaid expansion fully in place if elected — after dancing around the issue for months with TPM and other news outlets. DeWine does, however, favor work requirements and other restrictions on coverage.
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