Tom Price’s Truly Outrageous Behavior

Over the last few days, headlines have been blaring about HHS Secretary Tom Price (as well as Mnuchin, Zinke and Pruitt) using private chartered jets to travel. A commitment to reimburse taxpayers misses the point here. In the scheme of things, the amount of money spent isn’t all that much. What is much more troubling is the sense of entitlement and the way that self-enrichment is assumed to be part of public service in this administration.

But while that issue has been front and center, the truly outrageous actions of Sec. Price haven’t received as much attention. It has become obvious that he is doing everything humanly possible to stop people from purchasing health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges.

November 1st begins the open enrollment period and, absent a major life event, it marks the only time during the year that individuals can sign up for coverage on the exchanges. Here is what Price has done so far to make that more difficult:

  1. Shortened the open enrollment period by 1 1/2 months
  2. Eliminated 90 percent of funding for advertising the open enrollment period and cut funding for navigators (who assist people with enrollment) by 40 percent
  3. Announced a plan to shut down the federal exchange for maintenance 12 hours every Sunday through the open enrollment period.

On this latest one about shutting down the exchange for maintenance, one anonymous official suggested that it was no different than what happened in previous years during the Obama administration. Surprise, surprise…that is a lie.

A federal report to Congress said healthcare.gov was online 99.9 percent of the time in the 2015 and 2016 open enrollment seasons.

The Trump administration plan will have the site operating 93 percent of the time — over an enrollment period that is half as long as it used to be. In effect, instead of a 90-day enrollment season, the Trump administration has cut it to 45. The maintenance shutdowns cut it to an equivalent of 42 days.

Of course we don’t know yet how many people will be affected by these decisions. But last year more than 9 million people signed up for health insurance on the federal exchange. Sec. Price is doing everything he can to ensure that number drops this year—which will not only affect those who go without insurance but, by reducing the size of the pool, will make plans more expensive in the future.

What we have is a Trump Cabinet member who assumes that he is entitled to the perks of private jet travel while he ensures that fewer Americans get health coverage and, for those who do, that it is more expensive. There is your full package of outrage, folks.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.