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New Report Details How Government Undermines the Affordable Care Act

"Save the ACA" Rally in Support of the Affordable Care Act, at The White House, Washington, DC USA. (Photo: Ted Eytan)
"Save the ACA" Rally in Support of the Affordable Care Act, at The White House, Washington, DC USA. (Photo: Ted Eytan)

A new report from the Sunlight Foundation documented 26 instances in which references to the Affordable Care Act were removed or altered on government websites.

A new detailed report from the Sunlight Foundation claims the federal government undermines the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through web censorship.

The report titled Erasing the Affordable Care Act: Using Government Web Censorship to Undermine the Law showed “how website changes have reflected or enhanced the impact of various policy actions that have been implemented to undercut the ACA, like defunding navigator programs that reduce their outreach capacity and limiting access to Healthcare.gov and ACA enrollment,” the Sunlight Foundation wrote.

The public often relies on non-partisan information on government websites to make informed choices. According to a federal government memorandum, public government websites are the “primary means by which the public receives information from and interacts with the Federal Government.”

What Is the Affordable Care Act?

Sometimes referred to as “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act is a “comprehensive health care reform law” ordained in March 2010.

According to HealthCare.gov, the ACA has three central objectives, as detailed on their website:

  • Make affordable health insurance available to more people. The law provides consumers with subsidies (“premium tax credits”) that lower costs for households with incomes between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level.
  • Expand the Medicaid program to cover all adults with income below 138% of the federal poverty level. (Not all states have expanded their Medicaid programs.)
  • Support innovative medical care delivery methods designed to lower the costs of health care generally.

References to ‘Affordable Care Act’ Altered or Removed from Many Government Websites

The Sunlight Foundation’s report documented 26 instances in which references to the Affordable Care Act were removed or altered on government websites.

In one case, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) changed the “ACA” category on its FAQ page, in addition to changing HealthCare.gov’s “Apply for Health Insurance” page.

Further, CDC.gov removed references to the ACA on its “National Center for Health Statistics” website. The Sunlight Foundation noted the changes in its report:

Altered text in “Who Uses NCHS Data?” section: 74

From: “Congress and other policymakers—to understand the complete picture of the effects of major policy initiatives, including implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and track health outcomes to set priorities for research and prevention programs.”

To: “Congress and other policymakers—to understand the complete picture of the effects of major policy initiatives, including health insurance coverage and access to care, and to track health outcomes and set priorities for research and prevention programs.”

In another instance, CMS.gov removed the following text from its website, according to the Sunlight Foundation’s report:

“National health spending growth is projected to have decelerated from 5.8 percent in 2015 to 4.8 percent in 2016 as the initial impacts associated with the Affordable Care Act’s major coverage expansions fade. Medicaid spending growth is projected to have decelerated sharply from 9.7 percent in 2015 to 3.7 percent in 2016 as enrollment growth in the program slowed significantly. Similarly, private health insurance spending growth is projected to have slowed from 7.2 percent in 2015 to 5.9 percent in 2016 (also largely attributable to slowing expected growth in enrollment).”

Routine Changes – or Attempts to Sabotage the Affordable Care Act?

According to the Sunlight Foundation, “Many instances of web censorship we have seen have targeted information and resources for underserved populations like women, the LGBTQ community, minority groups, and people with a mental health condition, and in some cases may deepen the negative impacts of policy changes that de-emphasize and de-prioritize their rights to affordable coverage. These communities are already more likely to be uninsured or have less access to ACA health services than the rest of the population.”

These changes, however, are part of “routine updates” to ensure correct information and eliminate redundancies, an HHS spokesperson told FierceHealthcare. Furthermore, any information that has been “removed” is archived, making it still accessible.

“The accusations and conclusions expressed by the Sunlight Foundation and others are not supported by the facts that under the Trump administration insurance markets have shown greater stability, premiums have come down, options have increased and enrollment in the ACA has remained relatively stable,” the spokesperson told FierceHealthcare.

Read the Sunlight Foundation’s report in full here.

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Leighanna Shirey

Leighanna graduated with a degree in English from Pensacola Christian College. After teaching high school English for five years, she decided to pursue her dream of writing and editing. When not working, she enjoys traveling with her husband, spending time with her dogs, and drinking way too much coffee.

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