President Donald Trump’s administration has been quietly waging a public relations campaign to undermine public support for Obamacare, former President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, according to a new Daily Beast report.
Using social media and a series of video testimonials, the Department of Health and Human Services, led by Tom Price, is amplifying criticism of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, and discouraging enrollment in the program.
Using funds earmarked for “consumer information and outreach,” HHS has produced and released 23 videos of Americans talking about their difficulties with Obamacare, according to The Daily Beast.
In one video, an Illinois mother, Christine Chalkey, says that her 22-year-old son, Jacob, who was born with a severe development disability, almost died as a result of the state’s 2012 cuts to Medicaid, which insured Jacob. Chalkey blames Jacob’s loss of coverage on Obamacare, which she says stretched the limits of the state’s Medicaid funding to its breaking point, denying Jacob the medicine he needed.
The videos also highlight horror stories of skyrocketing premiums and deductibles in the private marketplace.
Ryan Stanton, a Kentucky physician who was featured in an HHS testimonial, told The Daily Beast that he felt pressured to speak more critically of the health law than he wanted to.
“I don’t think mine was the exact message they were looking for of, ‘Oh, let’s march against Obamacare,'” he said. “It was clearly an effort to push the repeal and replace.”
HHS’s website has also removed and altered information about the healthcare law. One page on the site, entitled “Empowering Patients” reads: “with skyrocketing premiums and narrowing choices, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has done damage to this market and created great burdens for many Americans.”
Twitter accounts run by HHS and Price have also been used to criticise Obamacare and promote Republican repeal and replacement legislation.
While HHS is allowed to spend money on efforts to educate the public, it is illegal for the agency to engage in direct advocacy, or “purely partisan activity,” including promoting legislation.
“You’re not hired into the administration to decide whether you agree with the law you’re asked to execute. That’s not your job,” Andy Slavitt, the former acting administrator at the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told The Daily Beast. “Congress appropriates funds for you to carry out laws that they passed, not to spend those funds on activities that counteract those laws.”
Over the last several months, Democratic lawmakers in Congress have sent letters to Price, the HHS inspector general, and the Government Accountability Office requesting more information about the government’s “actions to undermine the ongoing implementation” of Obamacare.
Former Obama administration officials argue that these efforts are part of the administration’s broader plan to either repeal and replace Obamacare or “let Obamacare fail,” as Trump has most recently advocated.
“I’m on a daily basis horrified by leaders at the Department of Health and Human Services who seem intent on taking healthcare away from the constituents they are supposed to serve,” former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told The Daily Beast. “We always believed that delivering health and human services was the mission of the department. That seems to not be the mission of the current leadership.”