NorthJersey.com

Undercutting The ACA Is Mean-Spirited

The Record (NorthJersey.com) — July 24, 2017

EDITORIAL

Having so far failed to kill off the Affordable Care Act through conventional means, such as new federal legislation, the Trump administration has resorted to letting the health law slowly be starved by a lack of funding and support. The strategy of cutting off funding in hopes that a program will eventually become so inefficient that it can't survive is not a new one, but in this case it is particularly heartless because it aims to hurt a policy that remains popular with millions of Americans who never had health insurance before.

As The Associated Press reported, the administration has ended ACA contracts that brought assistance into libraries, businesses and urban neighborhoods in 18 cities, meaning shoppers on the insurance exchanges will have few places to turn for help signing up for coverage. Community groups say it will make it even more difficult to enroll the uninsured and help people already covered re-enroll or shop for a new policy.

"There's a clear pattern of the administration trying to undermine and sabotage the Affordable Care Act," said Elizabeth Hagen, associate director of coverage initiatives for the liberal advocacy group Families USA. "It's not letting the law fail, it's making it fail."

Every effort that is used to slow or cut back the enrollment of Obamcare serves to dilute the overall strength of the law and make it less effective. Previously, the administration pulled paid advertising for the sign-up website, HealthCare.gov, prompting an inquiry by a federal inspector general into that decision and whether it hurt sign-ups.

Cutting back these vital contracts is sure only to add to the national confusion concerning health care coverage. The change implemented by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — the decision not to renew the contracts for a third option year — comes on top of much political wrangling in Washington concerning the future of health care policy. In the Republican-controlled Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has thus far been unable to secure votes necessary to repeal the ACA and replace it with a plan that would, among other things, cause up to 20 million people to lose health coverage.

As it stands, people will have 45 days to shop for 2018 coverage, starting Nov. 1 and ending Dec. 15. In previous years, they had twice that much time.

The contract cuts will be felt acutely in New Jersey, where enrollment-assistance centers have been a godsend in helping people find the coverage they need and learn how to go through the proper steps to receive it. As The Record reported, three New Jersey enrollment assistance centers — on Route 46 west in Clifton, on Bergenline Avenue in Union City, and in Iselin — were operated by CSRA Inc., one of the contractors whose contracts were not renewed.

Overall, vendors assisted about 14,500 enrollments, less than 1 percent of the 9.2 million people who signed up through HealthCare.gov, the insurance marketplace serving most states. The enrollment centers in New Jersey offered help with sign-ups in Spanish, French Creole, Arabic, Czech, Portuguese, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu and Korean — as well as English.

"New Jersey will have a gaping hole without their help," said Maura Collinsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, who led a coalition of grass-roots and volunteer groups that helped enrollment. "Coupled with the shorter enrollment period, it will really hinder" efforts to help people get health insurance.

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to bring forth a better health care law, yet so far all he has done is attempt to undercut the one that exists. Slowly cutting away supports that have made Obamacare popular and effective is not a responsible way to govern. Rather, it is mean-spirited and irresponsible, and will only make life more difficult for people seeking health care coverage.

Copyright 2017 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

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