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The Trump administration has told the federal health agency's 10 regional directors not to participate in events promoting open enrollment in Obamacare insurance plans nationwide, a new report revealed Wednesday.
The decision is the latest move by the administration — which opposes the Affordable Care Act — to undercut the Obamacare program.
BuzzFeed News reported Wednesday that all regional directors at the U.S. Health and Human Services Department were instructed not to help in state-based enrollment promotion activities this fall.
HHS officials in past years under the Obama administration had participated in those outreach efforts.
Buzzfeed's report came shortly after Vox reported that health-care advocates in Mississippi had received an email earlier this week saying HHS staff would "not be supporting marketplace efforts by being out in the regions this year."
Roy Mitchell, executive director of the Mississippi Health Advocacy Program, told Vox that HHS officials had repeatedly assured him that the enrollment promotion would continue with their involvement this year, as they had previously.
But then Mitchell was notified Monday of the reversal in that plan.
"It's clearly sabotage," Mitchell told Vox.
Caitlin Oakley, HHS press secretary, confirmed the reports, writing in an email to CNBC:
"Marketplace enrollment events are organized and implemented by outside groups with their own agendas, not HHS. These events may continue regardless of HHS participation.
"Obamacare has never lived up to enrollment expectations despite the previous administration's best efforts. The American people know a bad deal when they see one and many won't be convinced to sign up for 'Washington-knows-best' health coverage that they can't afford. For the upcoming enrollment period, Americans are being hit with another round of double-digit premium hikes and nearly half of our nation's counties are facing Obamacare monopolies. As Obamacare continues to collapse, HHS is carefully evaluating how we can best serve the American people who continue to be harmed by Obamacare's failures."
Open enrollment in Obamacare health plans begins Nov. 1. By law, most Americans must have some form of health insurance or pay a tax penalty.
Andy Slavitt, who oversaw Obamacare for the Obama administration as acting administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told CNBC, "We are past any point of any reasonable person being able to give the administration the benefit of the doubt."
"Next time Sen.[Lindsay] Graham [R-S.C.] tries to make the case for slashing health care for low-income people, kids, and older people by pointing to a 'failing' ACA, we should all remember these stories of blowing up the ACA bit by bit."
Graham's bill to repeal and replace Obamacare failed to win enough support to be voted on in the Senate this week.
"We should never allow partisan sabotage to build the case for further destructive partisan actions," said Slavitt.
"Let's make the administration account for these steps and elect lawmakers who will pledge to work in a bipartisan fashion."
The Protect Our Care Campaign, a leading Obamacare advocacy group, in a statement noted that "this order comes on the heels of the Administration's decision to limit the working period of HealthCare.gov," the federal Obamacare insurance marketplace. It also comes after a "decrease [in] open enrollment advertising by $90 million, and as the president continues to for a partisan repeal bill."
Protect Our Campaign Director Brad Woodhouse said, "What this Administration is doing is appalling."