Trump administration cuts short ACA assistance contracts, drawing advocates' ire

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Some advocates contend the Department of Health and Human Services has taken steps to undermine the Affordable Care Act despite being in charge of administering it.

The Trump administration has ended contracts with two companies that helped coordinate sign-ups for Affordable Care Act exchange plans in 18 cities—a move that some say is further proof the administration is trying to sabotage the ACA.

McLean, Virginia-based Cognosante LLC and Falls Church, Virginia-based CSRA Inc. were awarded contracts starting in 2013 to help provide consumer assistance in libraries, businesses and urban neighborhoods during open enrollment, the Associated Press reports. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has opted not to renew the final option year of those contracts.

Both contracts—worth $9.6 million and $12.8 million, respectively—are set to expire Aug. 29. Open enrollment for 2018 ACA exchange plans starts Nov. 1. The two companies facilitated just a small fraction of the overall sign-ups on HealthCare.gov, yet some advocates noted they focused on a key demographic for the exchanges’ viability—young, healthy consumers.

A CMS spokeswoman told the AP that the contracts with the two companies were always meant to provide temporary help in the ACA’s early years, and noted that a year-round call center and grant-funded navigator programs will continue to help facilitate sign-ups.

Yet one advocate, who helps run a health access coalition in Illinois, indicated the cancellation of the contracts has her organization worried about how to continue meeting the needs of the communities it serves. And spokespeople from pro-ACA groups told the AP that the cancellation of the contracts calls into question whether the Trump administration is trying to actively suppress sign-ups for the exchanges. 

“There’s a clear pattern of the administration trying to undermine and sabotage the Affordable Care Act,” said Elizabeth Hagan, associate director of coverage initiatives for Families USA.

Indeed, the administration made waves earlier this year when it shut down an advertising campaign encouraging consumers to sign up for ACA exchange plans in the final days of the 2017 open enrollment period. 

Further, a report out this week chronicled how the Department of Health and Human Services has spent taxpayer money meant to help advertise the ACA to instead produce video testimonials that criticize the law, and used its website and Twitter account to promote anti-ACA messaging. 

When it comes to the videos, though, it appears the agency is not backing down, as HHS Secretary Tom Price on Thursday tweeted out more than one of them: 

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