'Deeply troubled' Senate Democrats seek briefing on HHS' open enrollment strategy

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Several Democratic senators want HHS to brief them no later than Aug. 31 to offer more clarity on the “reasoning for the department’s actions” as well as its strategy for the 2018 open enrollment period.

Saying they are “deeply troubled” about efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, Senate Democrats are seeking answers about what the Trump administration is doing to prepare for the upcoming open enrollment period. 

The lawmakers, who are all ranking members of committees that oversee healthcare, detailed their concerns in a letter (PDF) sent on Friday to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D., and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma. 

“Rather than encouraging enrollment in the marketplaces, the administration appears intent on depressing it, which we fear will contribute to destabilizing insurance markets and drive up costs to consumers,” they wrote. 

The Trump administration drew criticism during the previous open enrollment period when it abruptly ended an advertising campaign encouraging ACA exchange plan sign-ups. It also shortened the 2018 open enrollment period for states that use Healthcare.gov from three months to 45 days.

Fast-forward several months, when reports have indicated that HHS made no effort this year to reach out to a host of community and advocacy organizations that previously worked closely with the agency on ACA outreach efforts. HHS also ended contracts with two companies that helped coordinate open enrollment assistance in several cities.

The senators’ letter offers other examples, as well, citing news reports that have indicated that HHS is “significantly” scaling back call centers tasked with helping consumers enroll in individual marketplace plans, and other reports that have stated that some Healthcare.gov enrollees were erroneously notified that their coverage was canceled. 

Lastly, the lawmakers say they’re concerned about the Trump administration’s transparency about funding for the Navigator program, which helps consumers understand their enrollment options and financial assistance eligibility.

Therefore, the senators want HHS to brief them no later than Aug. 31 to offer more clarity on the “reasoning for the department’s actions” as well as its strategy for the 2018 open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 1. They also provide a lengthy list of questions that they want HHS to answer.

HHS did not respond to a request for comment from FierceHealthcare as of press time.