Health and Science

Obama administration's parting shot to Trump: Obamacare ads will run through end of January, well after inauguration

President-elect Donald Trump(C) is greeted by US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (L) as he arrives at the White House in Washington, DC January 20, 2017.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

And now the new Trump administration will promote Obamacare. Really.

The Obama administration paid for advertisements and funded outreach programs, through the end of January, to encourage people to sign up for Obamacare health coverage.

The ads and other promotion efforts will go on during the first 12 days of the presidential term of staunch Obamacare opponent Donald Trump, who took the presidential oath of office Friday. The expenditures were first reported by Politico Pro. The amount that will be spent for the last 12 days of January isn't clear, but the total spent on promoting the program this season is in the tens of millions of dollars.

The purchases were made while the Obama administration still controlled the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the massive health agency whose responsibilities include operating, the Obamacare exchange that sells health plans to residents of 39 states.

Open enrollment for individual health plans that take effect in 2017 continues until Jan. 31.

"As we have done in previous open enrollment periods for both Medicare and the Marketplace and per our normal course of business, ad buys are made in advance," CMS spokeswoman Aaron Albright told CNBC on Friday.

The ACA requires most Americans to have health coverage of some kind or pay a tax penalty that is the higher of $695 or 2.5 percent of household income. It is not clear that the penalty would be waived for this year as part of a Republican-led repeal of the law.

While it was normal business under the Obama administration to try to boost the number of people enrolled in Obamacare plans, those efforts this year could add to the political headache that Trump and his fellow Republicans face in their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Trump and GOP leaders in Congress have said they want to repeal at least certain provisions of the ACA, and replace it with new health-care legislation. But it is not clear what that new legislation would look like, or whether it would come close to maintaining the same rate of Americans currently covered by health insurance.

Complicating matters is the fact that Republicans, who control 52 seats in the Senate, need just 50 votes there to repeal Obamacare through the process known as budget reconciliation. But they will likely have to line up 60 senators to vote for a replacement plan to ensure it becomes law. And any replacement plan that does not maintain the same numbers of people currently covered by the ACA will have difficulty drawing support from Democratic senators.

Some members of Congress in recent weeks have been confronted by constituents worried about losing their health coverage.

About 11.5 million people so far this enrollment season have signed up for Obamacare plans sold on either, or on one of the insurance exchanges operated by individual states and the District of Columbia. That tally is about 300,000 more than the number of people who had signed up for Obamacare plans nationally at the same time last year.

People who purchase Obamacare plans for this year are not expected to lose their coverage during the course of 2017, even if provisions of the ACA are repealed.

Overall, about 20 million Americans have gained health coverage in the past six years as a result of the ACA, which in additional to subsidizing individual plan purchases for many Obamacare plan customers also expanded Medicaid coverage to more poor adults, and allowed people under age 26 to stay on their parents' insurance plans.