Health Law & Business News

Mixed Messages Divide Trump, Health Officials After ACA Ruling (1)

Dec. 15, 2018, 10:14 PMUpdated: Dec. 17, 2018, 9:09 PM

Two top officials in the Department of Health and Human services took to Twitter after a Texas judge ruled Obamacare unconstitutional Friday, reminding Americans the decision doesn’t affect open enrollment.

The Twitter messages are an example of the sometimes cross-cutting messages coming from the Trump administration. While HHS officials were trying to reassure people who had signed up for or planned to buy Obamacare plans, President Donald Trump tweeted Dec. 14 after the ruling, “As I predicted all along, Obamacare was just ruled an unconstitutional DISASTER.”

The federal judge’s decision Dec. 14 came just hours before the final day to sign up for plans on the Affordable Care Act marketplace. The ruling alone doesn’t render the ACA void, but the decision surrounded the law with uncertainty and confused many Americans about the future of their health insurance.

“HHS is free to do what they think is right—until the White House overrules them,” Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare &Medicaid Services, told Bloomberg Law in an email Dec. 17. “There’s no confusion after Trump’s tweet as to what the Administration policy, which is to end the ACA at all costs.”

Seema Verma, current administrator of CMS, sent out a message after the ruling to quell some of those fears and assure people “the exchanges are still open for business and we will continue with open enrollment.”

“There is no impact to current coverage or coverage in a 2019 plan,” Verma said.

Verma’s message was retweeted by HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

Azar also retweeted a prepared video from HHS’s Twitter account Dec. 15, encouraging people to sign up for open enrollment.

In the video, Azar highlights the administration’s efforts to increase health-care options for small businesses and self-employed individuals, and lower average premiums on Healthcare.gov

“Please consider your options carefully,” Azar said in the video. “And if purchasing coverage through Healthcare.gov is the right decision for you, make sure you do so by December 15, 2018, which is the deadline to sign up for coverage that starts on January 1, 2019.”

Twitter aside, official responses from HHS and the White House after the ruling also struck slightly different tones.

“The recent U.S. District Court decision regarding the Affordable Care Act is not an injunction that halts the enforcement of the law and not a final judgment,” a Dec. 17 HHS statement said. “Therefore, HHS will continue administering and enforcing all aspects of the ACA as it had before the court issued its decision.”

The HHS focused on making the distinction that the ACA was still in effect, whereas a statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders cheered the ruling, saying the “decision vindicates President Trump’s position that Obamacare is unconstitutional” and adding briefly that “the law remains in place.”

“At CMS, chaos and confusion is not good for your ability to do your job,” Slavitt said. “With the White House, they crest chaos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”

(Updated with additional reporting throughout)

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Allison Gatrone at agatrone@bloomberglaw.com

To read more articles log in. To learn more about a subscription click here.