September 28, 2017

Luján and House Energy & Commerce Democrats Question Trump Administration's Actions in Shutting Down HealthCare.gov During Open Enrollment Period

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Following reports that Trump administration officials repeatedly shut down public access to the online health insurance enrollment website, HealthCare.gov, for significant portions of time during the 2018 open enrollment period, Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) was joined by 23 other Members of Congress on a letter demanding an explanation for the administration’s actions.

In a letter sent today to Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price and the Administrator of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, Seema Verma, the lawmakers expressed their concern that the administration was purposefully undermining current healthcare law, making it more difficult for individuals to enroll and seeking to destabilize insurance markets across the country. Democrats say such actions could not only deny access to health insurance for Americans seeking to enroll and undermine confidence in the health exchanges generally, it could also lead to increased premiums for millions across the country.

The authors noted that they were “deeply troubled” by news of the enrollment shut downs. “This unfortunate decision appears to be part of a pattern of efforts to undermine enrollment in the Marketplaces, including plans to cut the enrollment period in half and slash spending on advertising and consumer outreach.  These decisions will make it more difficult for individuals to enroll, which we fear will contribute to destabilizing insurance markets and increasing premiums for millions of Americans across the country” the lawmakers wrote.

The legislators demanded an explanation for the disruptions in service, asking for “a detailed explanation of how this decision [to shut the site down] was made, and why these maintenance periods exceed the length and frequency of those needed in previous years.” The letter also asked that, in light of the interruptions to HealthCare.gov, the Trump administration extend the healthcare enrollment deadline for an additional two weeks, from the current deadline of December 15 to December 31.

Full text of the letter is attached and below:

 

September 27, 2017

 

The Honorable Thomas E. Price, M.D.

Secretary

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, DC 20201

 

The Honorable Seema Verma

Administrator

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

7500 Security Boulevard

Baltimore, MD 21244

 

Dear Secretary Price and Administrator Verma:

            We write to you today deeply troubled by reports of the Trump Administration’s decision to shut down HealthCare.gov for 12 hours on all but one Sunday during the 2018 open enrollment period. HealthCare.gov, a federally run website that serves millions of Americans in 39 states, provides vital information to those seeking to learn more about – and enroll in – health insurance in the marketplaces. This unfortunate decision appears to be part of a pattern of efforts to undermine enrollment in the Marketplaces, including plans to cut the enrollment period in half and slash spending on advertising and consumer outreach.  These decisions will make it more difficult for individuals to enroll, which we fear will contribute to destabilizing insurance markets and increasing premiums for millions of Americans across the country.

            Since 2013, the healthcare marketplaces have enabled significant gains in coverage during the open enrollment periods for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Millions of Americans have gained access to comprehensive and affordable health insurance. Any attempt to undermine the open enrollment period for health insurance, including those efforts announced by HHS, will roll back this progress made under the ACA.

            There are 39 states that rely on the federal enrollment site, HealthCare.gov. Recent reports detail the Administration’s plans to shut down this website, from 12 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET on every Sunday except December 10, as well as overnight during the first day of the enrollment period, November 1, 2017.[1] While the website experienced outages for maintenance in previous enrollment periods, we believe the decision to shut it down weekly – for 12 hours at a time – requires further explanation from the Administration. Consumers in these states deserve full transparency to understand the rationale behind these decisions that hurt their ability to gain comprehensive health insurance coverage for themselves and their families.

As Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, we write to you to seek further information on a concerted effort to block consumers from enrolling in the insurance marketplaces created through the ACA, deliberately undermining current law that provides access to health insurance for millions of Americans. Please provide answers to the following questions.

Ease of access to information regarding eligibility and the enrollment process are critical during the limited open enrollment period. What steps has HHS taken to ensure the ease of access to this information for consumers?

1.      What research or analyses, if any, has HHS conducted to understand the impact of this scheduled maintenance on overall enrollment? What did HHS conclude?

2.      What is the reason for weekly maintenance periods lasting 12 hours? Please provide a detailed explanation of how this decision was made, and why these maintenance periods exceed the length and frequency of those needed in previous years.

3.      Why did HHS not schedule this maintenance during low traffic periods, such as overnight, instead of until noon on Sundays?

4.      Does the Administration intend to supplement the lack of access to the federally run website with increased call support and other means of providing consumers with needed information during the enrollment period?      

As premiums continue to climb due to unacceptable sabotage and uncertainty, it is more critical than ever that the Administration seek to provide all assistance possible to ensure ease of enrollment for Americans seeking health insurance. As such, we ask that you extend the open enrollment period from December 15 to December 31, 2017.

We look forward to your response to, and discussion of, the concerns outlined. Your prompt attention to this matter is appreciated. As the start date of the open enrollment period is quickly approaching, we appreciate a response to these inquiries within 15 business days from the receipt of this letter. Thank you in advance.

Sincerely,

 

Frank Pallone (D-NJ06)

G. K. Butterfield (D-NC01)

Kathy Castor (D-FL14)

Diana DeGette (D-CO01)

Michael F. Doyle (D-PA14)

Eliot L. Engel (D-NY16)

Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA18)

Gene Green (D-TX29)

Scott H. Peters (D-CA52)

Raul Ruiz (D-CA36)

Kurt Schrader (D-OR05)

David Loebsack (D-IA02)

 

Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM03)

Doris O. Matsui (D-CA06)

Jerry McNerney (D-CA09)

Bobby L. Rush (D-IL01)

John P. Sarbanes (D-MD03)

Jan Schakowsky (D-IL09)

Paul Tonko (D-NY20)

Peter Welch (D-VT)

Debbie Dingell (D-MI12)

Tony Cárdenas (D-CA29)

Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY09)

Joseph P. Kennedy (D-MA04)