Health Care Act

It could be harder for some near Charlotte to pick a health plan after Trump cuts

FILE - In this March 1, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump, flanked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., left, and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., speaks during a meeting with House and Senate leadership, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington.
FILE - In this March 1, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump, flanked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., left, and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., speaks during a meeting with House and Senate leadership, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. AP

A S.C. nonprofit can’t afford to help residents in York, Lancaster and Chester counties enroll in Affordable Care Act health insurance plans in person this year because of funding cuts by President Donald Trump’s administration.

The Palmetto Project, which aims to improve access to health care, will get about $500,000 in federal grant money this year, down from about $1 million in previous years, said Shelli Quenga, director of programs for the nonprofit.

The budget cut will eliminate an in-person navigator by the nonprofit, hurting residents in those three counties near Charlotte who need to enroll in insurance plans on the healthcare.gov marketplace, Quenga said. Open enrollment begins Nov. 1.

The Trump administration also slashed its advertising budget by $90 million last month, according to news reports. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said it plans to spend $10 million on advertising efforts through digital media, email and text messages.

“These outreach methodologies have proven the most effective in reaching existing and new enrollees,” said Randy Pate, director of the Health and Human Services’ Center for Consumer Information & Insurance Oversight, in a memo last month. “Outreach will also be targeted based on specific demographic and geographic data.”

But critics have said that the funding cuts are intended to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.

“One of our biggest fears is that people think that the law doesn’t even exist anymore with the routine misinformation and constant wrangling over the repeal of the law,” Quenga said.

The confusion could be exacerbated in border counties because North Carolina will offer different Affordable Care Act plans.

The organization is looking for ways navigators can help remotely. In addition, certified application counselors will be based out of federally qualified community health centers, but the hours and staffing levels of those assistants is unknown, Quenga said.

The federal grants were awarded based on how well the nonprofits met the previous year’s enrollment goals, Pate said. Grants to about 100 nonprofits for navigators were cut to $36 million, down from $63 million, according to The New York Times.

Quenga said her organization met 86 percent of its goal for enrolling participants in the marketplace, but saw half of its funding cut.

Cassie Cope: 704-358-5926, @cassielcope

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