Donald Trump couldn’t get a total repeal of the Affordable Care Act through a majority-Republican Congress (it remains to be seen if he can make the federal courts do it), so his administration is doing the next worst thing: erasing its presence from government websites. That’s according to a report from the Sunlight Foundation that is calling it censorship.
The Sunlight Foundation is a non-profit dedicated to keeping government transparent and accountable, and this report is part of its Web Integrity Project, which tracks government websites. This study has “documented 26 instances of ACA censorship—including excised words, removed links, altered paragraphs, and removed pages—on HHS websites.” Furthermore, it reports, this “may represent only a small sample of the censorship that has occurred since President Trump took office.” The censorship is widespread, with information that was intended for the general public, for prospective customers, for beneficiaries, and for providers and insurers all removed. That includes HHS having “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, HealthCare.gov.”
The deletions, tracked with the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine on pages monitored by Sunlight, seem intended to make it much harder for people to find out about eligibility for ACA coverage, how to sign up, and what benefits are available. More troubling, Sunlight says, the information that has been systematically removed is particularly relevant to women and to people of color, as well as to LGBTQ people and people with mental illness—in other words, the most underserved communities, and those who’ve gained the most through Obamacare.
This is part of larger Trump sabotage efforts, from nearly eliminating the budget for outreach and education for the “navigators,” the people who help with enrollment, to cutting open enrollment periods, to stopping the billions of dollars in payments to health insurers that the law required. The administration has rewritten rules to make selling junk insurance easier and to try to lure people out of the Obamacare market to those cheaper, crappier plans. It’s now erasing the information about what’s required in regular plans—ALL private insurance plans—that would inform people of the benefits of the law.
The one place they’ll go to find information they can trust, Sunlight says, has been undermined and could also undermine the law’s support. “With the cloak of objectivity that comes from .gov websites, censorship of online government resources may also have a large impact on public opinion,” the report says. “Citizens are less likely to carefully filter the information on .gov websites for partisan language or political agendas the way they might when consuming overtly political media, such as press releases or a presidential speech on TV. Information on agency websites is much more likely to be taken at face value, which is exactly the reason why the executive branch would seek to edit it.”