WONG: Do not sabotage the Affordable Care Act

By undermining rather than reforming the ACA, Republicans are doing a disservice to the American public

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By slashing the advertising budget to encourage enrollment in the healthcare exchanges, Republicans are putting the healthcare of millions of Americans at risk.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons | Cavalier Daily

On Aug. 31, the Trump administration announced it will be slashing federal funding for advertisement to encourage enrollment in the Affordable Care Act. The 90 percent decrease comes just a few months before the opening of the 2018 enrollment season, with officials claiming to be “moving forward by matching funding to performance.” While the ACA is undeniably flawed in numerous ways, the administration’s decision to cut advertisement funding for the law possesses few benefits, if any. Rather, the decision to cut its funding serves the sole purpose of intentionally letting the ACA fail.

Administration officials justified the cuts to federal spending on advertising by claiming that “people are aware the products are out there and they are aware they can sign up.” Although the general public is undoubtedly aware of the ACA’s existence, comprehension of the ACA’s policies is not nearly as widespread. The ACA has historically suffered from numerous misconceptions — including the false “death panel” myth, the misconception which the ACA provides benefits to illegal immigrants or the belief that Congress is exempt from the provisions of the ACA. Polls have repeatedly shown that a majority of Americans are unfamiliar with the provisions of the ACA — an August 2012 article published by The Hill noted that “just 14 percent of adults identified the law’s specifics correctly and with confidence.” Advertisement is essential in dispelling these myths and educating the American populace as to how the ACA functions. In cutting federal funding for enrollment efforts, such misinformation can spread unchecked, further damaging efforts to enroll patients into the ACA.

The benefits of such an action would be mild at best. The $90 million saved by cutting federal advertisement expenses would pay for a mere 0.013 percent of the federal budget’s $693 billion deficit for the 2017 fiscal year. Congressional Republicans have broken with Trump over the issue of health care with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announcing that a panel would begin work in early September on legislation to “stabilize and strengthen the individual health insurance market” by 2018. In the House, the Problem Solvers caucus began drafting plans on “immediately stabilizing the insurance market and then pushing for Obamacare changes that have received bipartisan backing in the past.”

If the Trump administration decides to continue sabotaging the ACA, Americans would respond assertively — an April 2017 Kaiser poll found that “a majority (61 percent) of the public say that because President Trump and Republicans in Congress are in control of the government, they are now responsible for any problems with the ACA moving forward.” By slashing the advertising budget in an attempt to sabotage the program, the Trump administration risks incurring the wrath of the American populace while having no practical effect on savings or deficit reduction.

Despite its flaws, the ACA has proven remarkably resilient, with predicted issues such as “death spirals” or uncovered counties not occurring as prophesied. Congressional and state leaders have shown some inclination towards stabilizing health care markets. Perhaps most importantly, the law has finally achieved positive net approval ratings. As Gallup notes: “Politically, it creates a major obstacle to Trump and Congress’ ongoing efforts to change or replace the law ... It could turn the GOP’s opposition to the law from an asset into a liability.” By slashing federal funding for advertisement, the Trump administration is self-sabotaging — compromising Congressional and state efforts to reform the Affordable Care Act while damaging health care marketplaces out of a perverse desire to undermine the law’s effectiveness.

William Wong is an Opinion columnist at The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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