So how much will Donald Trump’s sabotage of Obamacare actually affect enrollment? Over at the Incidental Economist, a team of researchers looked to Kentucky for answers. In late 2015, Republican Matt Bevin became governor and he immediately cut back on advertising and outreach for Kentucky’s version of Obamacare. In 2016 he cut back even further. The researchers crunched the numbers and concluded that each week without television ads resulted in 450,000 fewer page views, 20,000 fewer visits, and 20,000 fewer unique visitors per week during the open enrollment period.
But what about actual enrollment? Did that go down too? Or did it turn out—as Trump suggests—that everyone already knows about Obamacare, which makes expensive advertising campaigns a waste of money? As public service, I’ve added enrollment data to the chart the researchers produced. It’s the light pink bars:
When the previous administration cut back modestly on advertising, enrollment went down from 106,000 to 94,000. Then, when Bevin took office and cut advertising way back, it plummeted to 81,000. Apparently advertising works! Who knew?
That’s a drop of 14 percent, which is huge. But this might still understate the problem. Trump is planning to stop advertising and outreach at the same time he’s shortening the open enrollment period. A lot of people who think they can wait to enroll until the end of December—or even the end of January—are going to be unpleasantly surprised when they head over to healthcare.gov on December 27th and discover that they’ve missed the brand new deadline of December 15. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ended up affecting half a million people or more, who find themselves unexpectedly unable to buy health insurance for 2018.
The remarkable thing about all this isn’t just how callous it is, but how obviously callous it is. The cutbacks will save a little over $100 million, which is a pittance for a $100 billion program. There’s plainly no reason to eliminate this spending except as a way of deliberately trying to undermine the program and keep poor people from signing up. But Republicans don’t care if everyone knows it. Voters probably won’t figure it out, after all.
Now, it’s possible that this will backfire. Liberal groups may go into overdrive working to make sure people know about the new deadline. There’s an analogy here: in states that passed photo ID laws for voting, the backlash got so much attention that the laws had only a minor effect.
But even if that happens, it’s still a win for Republicans. After all, if liberals are busy with this, it means they’ll have less time to spend on whatever new atrocity Trump is working on during November and December. Merry Christmas, folks.
UPDATE: The original post was unclear about the dates of the Bevin administration, and I also miscalculated the percentage drop after Kentucky’s advertising stopped. It was 14 percent, not 24 percent. The post has been corrected.