Report cites distinct examples of 'censorship'; However, some removed material was overtly political.
This article was first published on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 in MedPage Today.
By Shannon Firth, Washington Correspondent, MedPage Today
WASHINGTON -- Over a 2-year period, the Department of Health and Human Services has been removing or downplaying information about the rights, benefits, and services granted by the Affordable Care Act, according to a new trend report from the Web Integrity Project, an arm of the Sunlight Foundation.
The WIP tracks and monitors changes to government websites in an effort to hold agencies and federal officials accountable.
Under the Trump administration, HHS removed at least 85 fact sheets, press releases, and other informational documents from its websites, in what the WIP report suggested is an effort to diminish the presence of Affordable Care Act-related content.
Rachel Bergman, director and co-founder of WIP, asserted in a blog post that the term ACA has been "surgically removed" from many webpages, and statistics and data on the ACA's positive impacts have also been eliminated, along with links to Healthcare.gov -- the primary platform many Americans use to enroll in ACA coverage.
One portion of the agency's website, created by the Obama administration to showcase "the real-world effects" of the Affordable Care Act was "largely scrubbed of content," just after President Trump took office, noted another blog post about the removals authored by Jon Campbell, the Sunlight Foundation's senior investigator.
These pages not only explained new benefits of the ACA program but also detailed the law's impacts on coverage for underserved populations.
According to Campbell, the removal of this content reflects a widespread pattern at the agency of eliminating or "de-emphasizing the ACA," in particular, any strengths and benefits of the program.
Other removals identified in the WIP report include:
- The Healthcare.gov website from the header of CMS.gov and from the footer of the Administration for Children and Families website.
- References to the ACA on HHS.gov's "Who is eligible for Medicaid?" webpage.
- ACA references on some CDC.gov, CMS.gov, Medicaid.gov, and Office of Minority Health webpages.
- Fact sheet on declines in uninsured rates in New York
Also removed was information on slowed premium growth for beneficiaries in employer-sponsored insurance plans in Massachusetts, noted Campbell.
Some changes seemed to specifically target underserved populations, such as the removal of a document titled "Best Practices for Outreach to Latino Communities" and the removal of ACA-related questions on the website MentalHealth.gov.
And the foundation noted removals of information related to sex discrimination on the HHS' Office for Civil Rights' Section 1557 section, which MedPage Today reported in July.
"Some of the material that was removed was overtly promotional and even political," Campbell acknowledged. For example, fact sheets titled "The ACA is Working for Middle-Class Families" and "The Affordable Care Act is Working for Older Americans" indicated that they explained "what's at stake if Congressional Republicans succeed in repealing the Affordable Care Act."
Whether a "fact sheet" is the correct place for such an obvious partisan angle is up for discussion, he wrote.
Photo credit: Jirsak / Shutterstock
Under the Trump administration, HHS removed at least 85 fact sheets and other documents from its websites, in what a watchdog report says is an effort to diminish the presence of ACAct-related content.
The Sunlight Foundation report suggests the removal of this content reflects a widespread pattern at CMS of 'de-emphasizing the ACA,' in particular, any strengths and benefits of the program.