The Trump administration is once again slashing funding for a program that helps Americans sign up for Obamacare.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Tuesday that it would provide only $10 million for the navigator program for this fall's open enrollment season. The move is the latest effort by the Trump administration to undermine the Affordable Care Act.
This past year, navigators received $36 million in funding, down from $63 million in 2016. The reduction was paired with a 90 percent cut in Obamacare's advertising budget.
The agency once again defended the decrease by saying that navigators, which usually hail from non-profit and community organizations, are not effective. They enrolled less than 1 percent of consumers who signed up for 2018 coverage in 34 states using the federal exchange, according to CMS.
Navigators say they don't get credit for all the consumers they help guide through the process but don't actually sign up. Also, navigators assist people with enrolling in Medicaid, which is not reflected in the numbers.
The Trump administration broadened the opportunity for private sector agents and brokers to assist consumers in signing up last fall. They assisted 42 percent of enrollees, the agency said.
Navigators applying for funding will also be encouraged to show how they will educate people about the newly expanded alternatives to Obamacare, such as association health plans and short-term plans. The Trump administration is making it easier for Americans to sign up for these policies, which many experts say will weaken Obamacare by siphoning off younger and healthier enrollees. These alternative plans don't have to provide all of the Affordable Care Act's consumer protections.
Consumer groups decried the move.
"Given the continued attacks on health care, including federal rules allowing the resurgence of low-cost, junk health insurance plans, such as 'association health plans' and 'short-term plans', consumers looking for good, comprehensive coverage could be easily confused," said Frederick Isasi, executive director of Families USA, a left-leaning advocacy organization. "This is a time when consumers need more help to understand the insurance options that are available to them—not less."
Open enrollment for 2019 coverage begins in November.