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Senators Question Scheduled Obamacare Website Shutdowns

September 27, 2017, 8:42 AM HST
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Sen. Brian Schatz. Courtesy photo.

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) today called for an investigation into the planned periodic shutdown of Healthcare.gov—the official federal website established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) where Americans can enroll in a health insurance plan—during the 2018 open enrollment period (OEP). During open enrollment – the time of year that individuals can enroll in a new health plan—the Trump Administration plans to make the website inaccessible for 12 hours on nearly every Sunday and on the first night of open enrollment.

The four Senators asked Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma why and how the scheduled shutdowns were deemed necessary by HHS and how they will impact Americans trying to access Healthcare.gov.

The letter also asks the agency to extend the open enrollment period to Jan. 31, 2018. In a second letter, the senators asked Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General  Daniel Levinson to investigate the need for and impact of these scheduled shutdowns.

“We are disappointed to learn that CMS has created a new barrier to enrollment,” the Senators wrote in their letter to Administrator Verma. “This planned downtime will be particularly harmful as this year’s OEP is only 45 days—significantly shorter than previous OEPs, which were at least 90 days. Furthermore, the planned downtime is peculiar given that HealthCare.gov had successfully met its goal of having a system uptime of 99 percent or greater in previous OEPs.”

The senators point to a number of actions the Trump Administration has taken to undermine the ACA, including making drastic funding cuts to ACA advertising and outreach programs.

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“Since taking office, President Trump and his Administration have made multiple policy changes that threaten to undermine the ACA marketplace—and the recent announcements of extensive shutdowns of Healthcare.gov for ‘maintenance’ appear to be part of that pattern,” the senators wrote in their letter to HHS IG Levinson. “We therefore ask that you include a review of CMS’s decisions regarding scheduled shutdowns of Healthcare.gov in your recently announced assessment of Federal Marketplace Enrollment Systems, including the reasons for the downtime, as well as whether the planned downtime complies with all applicable regulations, policies, and procedures.”

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To read the full text of the senators’ letter to the HHS Inspector General, click here.

To read the full text of the senators’ letter to the CMS Administrator, click here.

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