House Democrats demanded to know Friday why the Trump administration plans “major outages” of the federal Obamacare website during open enrollment this fall, saying it aligns too easily with the president’s oft-stated idea to let the law implode.
The administration plans to shut down HealthCare.gov for 12 hours of maintenance on five out of six Sundays during the open-enrollment period from Nov. 1 to mid-December. It’s also planned an overnight outage following the first day of signups on the website, which is used by more than three dozen states.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democratic investigator on the House Oversight Committee, said Mr. Trump already cut the open enrollment period in half, so Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price should justify the decision to slash web-shopping time.
“It is unclear why the Trump administration needs so many more outages to maintain the site this year — after the enrollment period was shortened — and why the administration designated the first day of open enrollment season to conduct purportedly regular, non-urgent maintenance,” Mr. Cummings wrote to Mr. Price.
The administration says maintenance outages are routine, though former Obama administration officials have questioned the duration of the upcoming shutdowns, saying they exceed the norm.
Mr. Cummings’ inquiry follows a similar letter from Senate Democrats, as defenders of the Affordable Care Act needle Mr. Trump over his ambivalence toward the 2010 law.
Mr. Trump hoped to be celebrating the passage of an Obamacare repeal bill by now. Instead, he is testing the boundaries of what he can do to reshape the law and reel in its promotion, from watering down enforcement of its “individual mandate” to slashing enrollment outreach.
Democrats fear the administration is following through on Mr. Trump’s musings on Twitter, where he said the best thing, “politically,” is to allow the law to collapse on itself, as it reels from a sicker-than-expected customer base and the lack of direction from Washington.
“Unfortunately, in addition to undermining the ACA, the Trump administration’s recent actions may harm many Americans who are seeking to obtain health insurance to protect themselves and their families,” Mr. Cummings wrote.
Bipartisan negotiators on the Senate Health Committee are trying to shore up the markets in 2018 by striking a deal that would fund “cost-sharing” reimbursements to insurers — Mr. Trump won’t guarantee the payments — while granting states more control of their markets.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican and committee chairman, says he is making “good progress” in finding consensus for the deal, though Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas appeared to undercut him on Friday, saying he opposes any “bailout” of insurers and that Republicans must be focused on the next repeal effort, after a GOP block-grant proposal fell short of votes this week.
“The American people did not send us here to bail out insurance companies,” Mr. Cruz said. “They sent us here to repeal and replace Obamacare. Failure is not an option.”
• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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