END OF 2018 OPEN ENROLLMENT PERIOD (42 states)

Time: D H M S

UPDATED: New twist in the HCgov Sabotage Saga: Ads back? Rogue employee? Automated mailing?

UPDATE 3:00pm 1/27/17: 

HHS official tells @CitizenCohn that Ocare automatic phone calls and outreach tools will remain. but not tv ads https://t.co/jjYfReoylD

— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) January 27, 2017

Huh. OK...that's directly opposed to what Demko's Politico story said last night (all media outreach including email reminders), but whatever.

UPDATE 11/28/17: OK, here's the latest:

The Trump administration apparently was unable to scrap all outreach efforts to enroll individuals in Obamacare, following widespread concern that its move Thursday to pull ads promoting enrollment could destabilize the insurance marketplace.

According to Politico, HHS officials said Friday evening that they will continue to allow "automatic phone calls and other online and digital outreach."

Politico also reported that HHS was unable to cancel some of the millions in television advertising that had already been bought during the Obama administration. HHS was able to cancel $4 million out of $5 million in the ads, which could still have a significant affect on enrollment, according to the report.

In other words, of the five possibilities I listed below, it's a combination of #1 and #3...the backlash was massive, and they weren't able to cancel some of ads/notifications anyway, so it's partly going through. It's possible that the cancelled ads will still hurt significantly...or it's possible that the backlash has raised awareness even further than not trying to cancel the ads in the first place. Who knows?

There's still so many unknowns right now that I'm still leaving my final projection anywhere in the 12.0 - 13.0 million range.

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ORIGINAL STORY:

Yesterday, all of Twitter was abuzz over the news that the Trump administration was pulling the plug on all of the final-week advertising/outreach for HealthCare.Gov and the January 31st Open Enrollment deadline:

The Trump administration has pulled the plug on all Obamacare outreach and advertising in the crucial final days of the 2017 enrollment season, according to sources at Health and Human Services and on Capitol Hill.

Even ads that had already been placed and paid for have been pulled, the sources told POLITICO.

...Individuals may still sign up for Obamacare plans until the Jan. 31 deadline — but the Trump administration isn't advertising that fact any longer.

It is also halting all media outreach designed to spur signups in the days leading up to the deadline. Emails are no longer being sent out to individuals who visited HealthCare.gov, the enrollment website, to encourage them to finish signing up. Those emails had proven highly successful in getting stragglers to complete enrollment before the deadline.

This caused much understandable outrage by myself, Democrats, HHS/CMS employees, third party organizations and so forth, leading to a massive backlash, complete with yet another "Alt-Gov" Twitter account.

However, just half an hour ago I received a "Final Deadline!" reminder email after all (and yes, I've confirmed that it's legit...not a phishing scam, etc):

...which was followed 20 minutes later by a brand-new Tweet by the official HealthCareGov account:

Open enrollment ends in a couple days. #GetCovered for 2017! https://t.co/gy7nWbLSe4 pic.twitter.com/KKhe5K4dmu

— HealthCare.gov (@HealthCareGov) January 27, 2017

In addition, a regular commenter on this site just informed me that...

I've gotten a few emails (as a broker) from healthcare.gov as well, today and yesterday reminding me of the upcoming deadline, and "ways in which to remind your exchange clients to pay their first premiums."

 

So...what the hell is going on?

There's five possibilities I can think of:

  • 1. The Trump administration is reversing their decision in response to the massive backlash. This strikes me as pretty unlikely, given the horrific policies and announcements they've been making about everything else.

However, Demko seems pretty specific and certain of his facts:

The Trump administration has pulled the plug on all Obamacare outreach and advertising in the crucial final days of the 2017 enrollment season, according to sources at Health and Human Services and on Capitol Hill.

Even ads that had already been placed and paid for have been pulled, the sources told POLITICO.

...It is also halting all media outreach designed to spur signups in the days leading up to the deadline. Emails are no longer being sent out to individuals who visited HealthCare.gov, the enrollment website, to encourage them to finish signing up.

...An HHS spokesman described the move as a cost-saving measure.

"The federal government has spent more than $60 million promoting the open enrollment period," the spokesman said. "HHS has pulled back roughly $5 million of the final placement in an effort to look for efficiencies, where they exist."

...The decision to scrap Obamacare outreach and advertising came directly from the White House, according to sources.

3. The emails and tweet were already prepared/scheduled prior to the Trump decision, and were triggered automatically. If this is the case, this might have been a one-time event. If the Trump people really are trying to put the kibosh on any sort of notices, I presume they're scrambling to disable any further mailings/tweets even as I type this. This seems the most likely to me.

4. This was the work of a Rogue Employee at the HHS Dept. (which is my personal preference; that'd be awesome!)

5. Here's the most sinister possibility: That this whole stunt was a gigantic mindfuck/gaslighting of the press to undermine Politico and Demko in particular.

Here's the thing: Just prior to the election, both the HHS Dept. and myself independently came to the same projection for the 2017 Open Enrollment period: somewhere in the 13.5 - 14.0 million range, or roughly 1 million higher than last year's 12.7 million.

Then Trump won.

After initially fearing the numbers would flatline as a result, I realized that him winning, by itself, probably wouldn't hurt enrollment too much; at the very least, the vast bulk of those who were already covered by exchange plans would likely renew their policies, minimizing any drop from last year's numbers.

Sure enough, the enrollment data which rolled in seemed to suggest only a minor drop from the original projections, probably resulting in a slight increase over last year: Perhaps 13.3 million.

Then, over the next ten days or so, two important things happened:

  • The GOP-held Senate passed their initial Obamacare repeal bill.
  • The GOP-held House passed their initiial Obamacare repeal bill.

This caused a general panic to start forming among the public (and among the insurance carriers). As outgoing HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell noted on January 18th:

“Strong demand is especially striking in light of the unique headwinds created by discouraging rhetoric from ACA opponents. More than 40,000 people have contacted our call center expressing concerns about whether they should sign up for coverage, with a sharp uptick in these questions last weekend. My answer is a resounding yes: in fact, I’ll be signing up for Marketplace coverage myself by the end of the month. If you still need coverage for 2017, visit HealthCare.gov or your state Marketplace before January 31, and join me and millions of other Americans in purchasing affordable, quality coverage.”

This, combined with a general sense of unease and especially the numbers which had started to come in, led me to not only lower my projection still further, but to effectively throw my hands in the air and give a wide range of anywhere from 12.0 million - 13.2 million, given what was coming up next: Trump being formally inaugurated as the actual President of the United States (holy crap).

Now, at the time, I was already afraid that the mere fact of Donald Trump actually taking office might in and of itself (combined with the GOP Congress agressively moving forward with legally repealing the law) might lead to a demoralizing effect on fence-sitting potential enrollees. Alternately, this might lead to the opposite--a "Holy Crap! Get in NOW before the door slams shut!" surge.

But then, just a few hours later, Trump signed an executive order instructing the HHS Dept. and all related agencies to do everything possible to obstruct, sabotage, slow down and othewise impede the ACA that they can possibly get away with.

At this point, I figured we'd be lucky to match last year's 12.7 million, much less surpass it.

And then, this "pull the ads!" development last night...followed by the "oh, never mind, the ads/emails/tweets haven't been pulled after all!" twist just an hour ago.

Is it possible that this whole thing was a headfake? That they know the numbers were gonna come up short regardless of whether they pull the ads or not? This way, they can say "you yelled at us for pulling the ads, so we ran them anyway, but it didn't matter, it was a big dud regardless!"...while completely ignoring the rest of the sabotage which has been scaring the living shit out of people for weeks now as well.

Anyway, given how horrifying this administration has been in just the first week, anything's possible.

Ultimately, all I can do is strongly urge people to sign up before midnight on January 31st. At this particular moment, and for the next 4 days, the best way to resist/fight back against repeal of the ACA is for as many people as possible to actually sign up for 2017 coverage (which should be locked in regardless of what sort of a mess faces us for 2018):