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Trump administration accused of 'censoring' online ACA info

Is the Trump administration "censoring" information about the Affordable Care Act on official government websites?
A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty)
A man holds a sign directing people to an insurance company where they can sign up for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare in Miami, Fla in 2015.

Late last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report showing the number of Americans without health care coverage going up, following years of steady improvement throughout the Obama era. In all, according to the CDC, more than 1 million Americans lost coverage in 2018.

Making matters worse, as USA Today reported, the CDC's National Health Interview Survey pointed to Republican policies as likely contributing to the upswing in the uninsured rate.

That's hardly an unreasonable observation. The steps the Trump administration has taken to undermine the Affordable Care Act have been well documented, and adverse consequences were inevitable.

If officials wanted to make things better, they could start to by restoring some of the benefit information they took down.

In the largest report yet by researchers at the Web Integrity Project at the Sunlight Foundation, screen shot look-backs and tallies document removal of at least 85 pages of fact sheets, news releases and answers to frequently asked questions that HHS under the Obama administration posted to help users -- particularly minorities -- navigate the available health insurance benefits. The website monitors also documented 26 cases of what they deem censorship."The administration has censored a wide array of content aimed at a variety of audiences, including the general public, beneficiaries and those who serve beneficiaries," the report said. "HHS has surgically removed the term 'Affordable Care Act' from many webpages; taken down information on rights guaranteed under the ACA; eliminated statistics and data on the ACA's impact; and removed links to the federal government's main platform for enrolling in ACA coverage,"The now-missing materials "read like a highlight reel of the law's benefits, both actual and projected," the report said.

The "Erasing the Affordable Care Act" report is available in its entirety here (pdf).

I'll concede that when it comes to ACA sabotage, online editing is almost certainly less significant than some of the other substantive steps the Trump administration has taken. Slashing funding for the Navigators program, ending "risk adjustment" payments to insurers, and expanding access to skimpy coverage plans has done more systemic harm.

But an untold number of Americans are likely to go online to learn about health care benefits, and they're likely to trust official government websites above any other source. Since Donald Trump took office -- and started declaring the "death" of "Obamacare" -- those websites have apparently been stripped of information millions of families could use.

That's probably not an accident.