Open enrollment ad stoppage, Trump executive order heighten insurers' worries

White House
Though Republicans have promised an orderly transition away from the ACA, the Trump administration's recent moves may in fact undermine the individual marketplaces.

Some see the Trump administration’s recent moves as a worrying signal to health insurers that Republicans aren’t as committed as they seem about keeping the individual marketplaces stable.

Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that instructs federal agencies to roll back Affordable Care Act provisions that are a “burden” to stakeholders such as consumers and healthcare companies.

And on Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services halted $4 million to $5 million worth of TV and radio ads promoting sign-ups in the final days of open enrollment. However, HHS will continue open-enrollment outreach efforts through avenues like email, Twitter and robocalls, a seeming reversal of course from its original decree.

But with the deadline for open enrollment on Tuesday, leading industry trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans stressed that it’s crucial not to waste any opportunity to get more people covered.

“Every American deserves coverage, and open enrollment is the best opportunity people have to get coverage that gives them access to high-quality care,” AHIP spokeswoman Kristine Grow said in an emailed statement. “Balancing out the risk pool is an important action that can be taken now to help stabilize the market, improve affordability and send strong signals as health plans develop their products for 2018.”

In fact, the final days of open enrollment are crucial to the goal of balancing out the risk pool, Andy Slavitt, the former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, told the Los Angeles Times. “Everyone knows that this last week of the enrollment period is critical for getting young people signed up,” he said. 

Enrollment in ACA marketplace plans has been strong so far this open-enrollment period, with a surge in sign-ups prompting HHS to extend the December deadline for coverage effective Jan. 1.

Yet moves like the ad blackout and Trump’s executive order sow doubts about Republicans’ promise of a “smooth transition” to an ACA replacement, the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt told The Hill. “That will make insurers jittery about participating in the market in 2018, and if they do participate premiums may be higher given all the uncertainty,” he said.

A report published last week from the Urban Institute indicated that many insurance companies that currently participate in the ACA exchanges would “seriously consider” withdrawing from the marketplaces in 2018 if the individual mandate is rolled back without a replacement.

Indeed, Slavitt tweeted Friday that one health plan executive he spoke to was hesitant to participate next year: