Tagline: Until the Work Is Done
Ongoing and Immediate Threats to Affordable Healthcare 
October 3, 2017 at 6:20 pm

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By Valerie Ploumpis, National Policy Director

With last week’s welcome collapse of Graham-Cassidy – the latest attempt by congressional Republicans to kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — the Trump Administration is now turning its efforts to sabotaging the ACA insurance marketplaces.

The means of sabotage go far beyond the president’s incessant tweets and threats. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is actively seeking to dissuade people from registering for health insurance during the annual sign-up period called Open Enrollment. To date, HHS has:

  • Cut the open enrollment period in half (from 90 days to only 45 days);
  • Cut the budget to advertise open enrollment by 92 percent, on the grounds that outreach wastes taxpayers’ money;
  • Cut funds by 40 percent for in-person outreach and enrollment by registered “navigator” groups that inform callers which health plans offered on state and federal insurance exchanges would best suit them, walk consumers through the sign-up process and conduct general outreach to communities about how to obtain ACA coverage; and
  • Announced that HHS would do all-day “maintenance” on the website for almost every Sunday during the open enrollment period.

Equality California has fought hard to protect the ACA since President Trump took office in January. Time after time we’ve mobilized our office in Washington, DC and our network of 800,000 EQCA members to push back on every effort to kill the ACA, a program under which many LGBTQ Californians received quality, affordable, and non-discriminatory health care for the first time. We’re gearing up again because the stakes are so high – people who miss the enrollment period will be locked out of insurance coverage until November 15, 2018.

Another Republican-led assault on affordable health coverage is via federal spending on health care and anti-poverty programs. On Thursday, the House is expected to vote on the FY2018 budget which purports to achieve a balanced budget in 10 years based on shaky assumptions – repealing the Affordable Care Act, restructuring Medicare into a “premium support” system beginning in 2024, and $1.5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid. In addition, the budget proposal cuts spending on critical programs and services across the board, including as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), school lunches for low-income kids, Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) and low-income tax credits. The Senate Budget Committee will schedule its own mark-up this week.

Equality California’s Washington, DC office is part of an LGBTQ coalition that has been advocating against these devastating cuts. The attached letter sent to the House Budget Committee points out that “LGBT people – and in particular, lesbian and bisexual women, people of color, and transgender people – disproportionately live in poverty. Currently, more than one in four LGB adults aged 18-44 (27 percent, or 2.2 million people) participate in SNAP, compared to 20 percent of non-LGB adults in the same age range. An estimated 1.8 million LGBTQ people are covered by Medicaid, and Medicaid is the biggest source of health insurance for people living with HIV. Cuts to Medicaid would mean LGBTQ people and people living with HIV will go without life-saving healthcare.”

Cumulative rhetorical and funding attacks have obviously alarmed health insurance companies and have shaken the market stability of the insurance industry – premiums surge and states are dropped from coverage altogether when major health insurance companies are unsure about the level of Federal reimbursement for low-income people.

A bipartisan bill now pending in the US Senate would help stabilize the insurance marketplace. Sponsored by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), the bill would transfer responsibility for ensuring cost-sharing reductions from the Department of Health and Human Services and to Congress. The ACA subsidies would be kept in place for at least one year, and perhaps longer. Further information about this bipartisan bill and an embedded video link to the first of four Senate hearings on ACA stabilization efforts can be found here: https://www.murray.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2017/9/at-first-bipartisan-health-care-hearing-sen-murray-calls-for-finding-common-ground-to-undo-uncertainty-in-markets-lower-costs-for-patients-families-in-washington-state-and-nationwide

Equality California will continue to monitor these developments and take appropriate action to safeguard the health and wellbeing of all LGBTQ Californians and their families.

Basic facts:

California’s open enrollment period is several weeks longer than most other states. It begins on November 1, 2017 and ends on January 31, 2018.

Covered California is the state exchange through which Californians apply for health insurance, or change their existing provider, and the only means to get federal premium assistance to help people buy private insurance. The link can be found here: http://www.coveredca.com/about/

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