The Trump administration has shut down an advertising campaign encouraging consumers to sign up for individual marketplace plans in the final days of the current enrollment period, sparking backlash from some pro-Affordable Care Act groups.
The move halts $4 million to $5 million worth of TV and radio ads that were part of an approximately $75 million contract that the Department of Health and Human Services had with a private advertising firm to promote open enrollment.
“We aren’t going to continue spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars promoting a failed government program," a senior communications adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services said in an emailed statement. "Once an assessment was made, we pulled back the most expensive and least efficient part of this massive ad campaign which was set to run over the weekend. Those costs savings will be returned to the U.S. Treasury.”
However, open enrollment information will continue to be available through avenues like robo-dial calls, Twitter, Healthcare.gov and other online sources, and agency personnel will still answer enrollment questions by phone and email. Indeed, the @HealthCareGov account promoted open enrollment in a tweet Friday afternoon:
The deadline to enroll for 2017 marketplace plans remains Jan. 31, but the advertising blackout dampens what normally would be a last-minute push by federal officials to encourage a rush of signups in the final days. Enrollment has typically spiked leading up to open enrollment deadlines.
Enroll America, a pro-ACA group that supplements the government’s signup campaigns with its own efforts, blasted the Trump administration’s outreach blackout.
“It is outrageous and deeply concerning to hear that the Trump administration has halted outreach and already-paid-for advertising efforts for the remainder of the enrollment period,” the group’s president, Anne Filipic, said in an emailed statement.
While Enroll America will continue to help promote and aid sign-ups, “the administration is uniquely positioned to engage and support millions of consumers in these critical final days, and their decision to halt outreach will have real impact on real people’s lives,” she said.
On Twitter, the organization Families USA indicated that it plans to continue to spread the word about signing up for coverage before the deadline:
Ads are not the only area in which federal health agencies have received new directives.
At the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, employees were notified of a ban on communications, including policy statements and public appearances, social media, blogs and webinars and release of documents, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Editor's note: This article has been updated from its original version to add comments from a HHS spokesperson.