Despite congressional Republicans’ relentless attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is still the law of the land and the country is infinitely better off because it is. This means the fifth open enrollment period – the period during which people can shop and sign up for health insurance through either their state’s marketplace or through the federal healthcare.gov marketplace – will kick off on November 1. Last year, women made up 54 percent of enrollees on healthcare.gov; this year, millions of women and families will once again have the opportunity to renew their plans or purchase insurance for the first time. Again this year, there will be financial assistance to help women afford their premiums and reduce costs when they visit their providers.
However, unlike in years past when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) aggressively promoted open enrollment as an opportunity for people to sign up for affordable health insurance, the Trump administration is actively trying to sabotage it. So far, the administration has:
- Cut the open enrollment period in half, from three months to just six weeks;
- Gutted the marketing budget by 90 percent;
- Stripped funding for navigators, the individuals who help people enroll in marketplace plans;
- Instructed its regional directors to refrain from any open enrollment promotional efforts, including speaking engagements; and
- Announced plans to shut down healthcare.gov for 12 hours every Sunday throughout the open enrollment period. HHS also plans to shut down healthcare.gov overnight on the first day of open enrollment, which means women and their families who rely on the site will be locked out during those times.
This is a marketing plan designed to fail, and it’s truly disgraceful. Effective marketing helps drive down the cost of premiums by getting more healthy, young people into the risk pool. A new report from the California state marketplace, Covered California, suggests that federal funding cuts will result in premiums that are 2.5 percent higher next year for people who buy insurance on healthcare.gov. Moreover, its analysis finds that 1 million fewer people will have insurance because the federal budget for marketing and outreach was slashed.*
In fact, spending on marketing is a great investment. Covered California estimates a three-to-one return on investment for every dollar spent on marketing. Its investment in marketing and outreach likely lowered premiums in the state by 6 to 8 percent for 2015 and 2016. This certainly makes the Trump administration’s cuts to the promotional budget look penny-wise and pound-foolish.
There are still more than 28 million people without health insurance in this country, including more than 10.6 million adult women (ages 18-65) – many of whom need public and private groups to help connect them with healthcare.gov and make coverage choices if the federal government fails to do so. Marketing and enrollment assistance is especially important for women, given their role as health care decision-makers for their families.
The National Partnership intends to do all we can to promote healthcare.gov, and we’re working with our partners to do the same. We all have an obligation to help women and families without health insurance find the affordable plans that can change – or save – their lives.
* Covered California calculated its estimates based on expected federal cuts of 72 percent.