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The people who used to run Obamacare are now trying to save Obamacare

CNBC logo CNBC 10/4/2017 Dan Mangan
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The people who used to run Obamacare for the government are now trying to save Obamacare from the government — with a new private effort to get people to sign up for health insurance.

Faced with continued hostility toward the Affordable Care Act by the Trump administration, a group of former health officials in the Obama administration on Wednesday unveiled a project called Get America Covered. The campaign will seek to build public awareness about the coming insurance enrollment season and affordability of health plans.

The project comes after the Trump administration shortened the enrollment window for Obamacare plans, slashed budgets for promoting sign-ups, and ordered federal officials not to participate in traditional partnerships with state-based health coverage campaigns.

Get America Covered leaders are hoping to offset, at least somewhat, the potential drop off in enrollment levels this season that could result from the Trump administration's actions.

"If the administration was committed to making sure people had the information they needed to sign up for health care, we wouldn't need to start Get America Covered," said campaign co-founder Lori Lodes.

"But people's lives are at stake so everyone has to step up and fill whatever gaps they can so people get the health care they need," said Lodes, a former communications director for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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Lodes told CNBC that the campaign has an initial budget of "six figures," with that funding coming from individuals, organizations and foundations, whom she declined to identify. Lodes said the campaign planned to raise additional funds from online donations.

Her co-founder in Get America Covered is Joshua Peck, former chief marketing officer for HealthCare.gov. That federally run Obamacare exchange sells individual private health plans in most of the country, and funnels people in the remaining states to the state-run insurance marketplaces that serves their areas.

Serving as national co-chairs of Get America Covered are former CMS chief Andy Slavitt, insurance industry executive Mario Molina, the actors Alyssa Milano and Bradley Whitford, and news commentator Van Jones.

In addition to reminding people of the enrollment deadline, the group said it also will be highlighting the fact that most Obamacare customers who buy coverage through a government exchange qualify for financial aid that can reduce their coverage costs to between $50 to $100 per month, or even less in some cases.

Get America Covered has a relatively short window in which to get its work done.

Unlike past open enrollment seasons, which spanned over months, people who want to have health coverage from a private individual plan in 2018 have half as much time to sign-up this year: Nov. 1 and Dec. 15.

Only people who qualify for so-called special enrollment periods can sign up after that. People who have coverage through a job, Medicare and Medicaid have different sign-up periods.

The Affordable Care Act was created as a result of President Barack Obama's desire to expand health-care coverage in the United States. Since Obama signed the ACA into law in 2010, about 20 million Americans have gained insurance coverage, and the uninsured rate has fallen to record lows.

Until Obama left office last January, Slavitt, Lodes, Peck and other top federal health officials had been avid promoters for ACA enrollment efforts, highlighting sign-up deadlines and touting the advantages of having coverage.

The ACA requires most Americans to have some form of health insurance or pay a fine.

To facilitate compliance with that mandate, the ACA authorized the creation of government-run insurance exchanges, such as HealthCare.gov, which sell plans offered by private insurers.

But since taking office, President Donald Trump has tried, unsuccessfully, to have Congress repeal and replace major parts of the ACA with new health-care legislation.

At the same time, CMS and its parent, the Department of Health and Human Services, have gone from being the leading cheerleaders of the ACA to its among its staunchest critics, issuing negative statements on the law and highlighting situation the agencies claim show Obamacare is failing.

That change in tone has concerned Obamacare supporters, who fear that Americans will assume that the ACA is no longer the law, and that there is no legal obligation for them to have insurance coverage.

"We can't make up for what the [Trump] administration refuses to do," Peck said.

But, Peck also said, "We're taking everything we learned about how to reach people with the information they need about deadlines and financial help and are getting to work to helping more people enroll."

CMS declined to comment Wednesday when asked about the Get America Covered campaign.


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