HHS won't participate in state-based open enrollment events

HHS' recent actions and announcements have made some question whether it is faithfully administering the Affordable Care Act.

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the Department of Health and Human Services is handling the Affordable Care Act open enrollment season much differently than the Obama administration.

Roy Mitchell, executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, told Vox that he had assumed HHS would once again be partnering with his organization on a multi-state, pre-open enrollment education tour aimed at individuals who help coordinate sign-ups. 

But then he received an abrupt notice this week that HHS wouldn’t be conducting any ACA outreach events in the South this year. “It’s clearly sabotage,” Mitchell told the publication.

In fact, all of HHS’ regional directors were told to not to participate in state-based events promoting open enrollment this year, a Trump administration source told BuzzFeed News. 

In a statement to Vox, an HHS spokeswoman noted that the organizations can continue to conduct outreach without the department’s help, adding that it is focused on “evaluating how we can best serve the American people who continue to be harmed by Obamacare’s failures.”

The administration’s latest move comes on top of several other developments that have made some question whether HHS is faithfully administering the healthcare law. For one, it recently came to light that Healthcare.gov will be shut down for a significant chunk of time on some Sundays during open enrollment. 

RELATED: Former HHS CIO casts doubt on healthcare.gov downtime as senators call for an OIG investigation

In late August, the administration announced that it would cut ACA outreach funding by 90% and funding for the navigator program by about 40%. 

In addition, a number of organizations, churches and even gig economy companies like Uber and Doordash have said they’ve heard nothing from the administration about continuing ACA outreach partnerships that have existed in years past. 

Democratic lawmakers have responded by sending letters to federal health officials demanding they explain the funding cuts and release promised funds to the navigator program. Some advocacy groups, meanwhile, are worried about the effect such moves will have on consumers, who are already facing increased uncertainty this year in addition to a shortened open enrollment period.