Obamacare outreach in Michigan slashed by Trump administration

WASHINGTON - The Trump administration is slashing funding for two organizations in Michigan that help residents navigate the complexities of signing up for and receiving benefits under the Affordable Care Act less than two months before enrollment begins.

U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak, said this morning that Enroll Michigan, which provides funding to more than two dozen groups providing sign-up assistance, has been told its grant will be cut by 90%, from $1.2 million to less than $130,000 this year.

ACCESS, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services in Dearborn, will see funding cut by more than a third, from $555,000 to $352,000. Both cuts follow reports that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services would reduce funding for so-called Navigators by 40% overall and penalize those that failed to meet targets.

"These cuts will be absolutely devastating for Michiganders who are looking for assistance in enrolling in health insurance," said Levin. "This is just the latest example of the Trump administration attempting to sabotage the ACA — this time at the particular expense of the health of Michiganders."

Officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services who oversee the program, which is also known as Obamacare, defended the cuts, however, as part of a change to the formula that sets funding on performance. They noted that in 2016 "Navigators received $62.5 million in federal grants to enroll 81,426 people – just 0.7% of total enrollees."

The agency also cited data that 17 Navigators enrolled fewer than 100 people each, at an average cost of nearly $5,000 per enrollee, and that the top 10 nationwide spent a total of $2.77 million  to enroll 314 people in coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The agency said this year it would instead focus efforts in areas where insurers "have reduced or eliminated plan offerings."

Dizzy Warren, executive director of Enroll Michigan, suggested the administration's defense missed the original intent of setting up the Navigators, which was to help navigate a complicated system: "The purpose of the ... program was to provide millions of consumers with outreach and education, in addition to enrollment services," she said.

She said Enroll Michigan has had contact with more than 3 million people and provided one-on-one enrollment assistance to more than 150,000 customers.

At ACCESS, Farah Erzouki, who is part of the outreach program, said, "Without this essential service, a large number of this under-served population would be left on their own to navigate the complexities of our health care system." The statement was circulated by Levin's office.

In recent months and years, Obamacare has been widely criticized for seeing premiums increase and, in some areas, insurers leave the market altogether. While Republicans have widely blamed the program, Democrats have noted that uncertainty about the future of the program and the continuation of cost-sharing has played a key role as well.

In June, proposed rate hikes for individual insurance in Michigan ranged as high as 31%, in large part because of skyrocketing drug prices. Health Alliance Plan has also announced it will cease participation in Michigan's marketplace next year, Levin's office said.

Federal data indicates  321,451 Michiganders signed up for coverage under the ACA in January of this year, though enrollment has been down.

The Trump administration has also said it will cut advertising for the program from $100 million to $10 million. Open enrollment for individual coverage under the program begins Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15. 

© 2017 WZZM-TV


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