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McConnell: HHS Should Use Funds for ACA Advertising for Zika

The top Senate Republican is urging the Obama administration to use any funding it is planning to use to increase enrollment in the Affordable Care Act exchanges to respond to the Zika virus.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Friday, seeking details on reports of an advertising campaign for the federal health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. Any funding the department has for such a campaign should instead go toward the Zika virus, McConnell said.

“As the program continues to falter, now we see reports that the administration is working on yet another Obamacare advertising campaign, despite warnings that it will do little to change the fundamental weaknesses in the marketplace,” he wrote. “I am particularly concerned that taxpayer resources could be used for these campaigns at a time when there are higher priority public health needs.”

Since health insurer Aetna announced plans to retreat from the exchanges in nearly a dozen states earlier this week, Republicans have reiterated calls to replace the 2010 health care law. The New York Times on Wednesday reported the administration was gearing up for a major push to enroll more young and healthy people on the exchanges during the open enrollment period that begins in November. Aetna pointed to a high number of sick people in their risk pool as having a negative effect on their finances.

Among his questions, McConnell asked whether such an advertising campaign is planned, how much it would cost and whether those funds were requested in either the department’s fiscal year 2016 or fiscal year 2017 budget request. He also asked what funds had been appropriated for such a campaign, if the administration had identified alternative sources of funding and if so, would that be better used to address the Zika virus?

While Congress remains at a standstill over appropriating funding for the Zika virus, Republicans have urged the administration to use already-available funds to respond to the virus. The administration last week re-allocated an additional $81 million to Zika to ensure that work on a vaccine isn’t delayed.

Using additional money that the agency has would be better spent on the virus, rather than the exchanges, McConnell argues.

“Advertising is helpful when you have a good product to sell that people don’t fully understand,” McConnell said. “Obamacare’s problem isn’t that it is poorly understood, but rather that people understand all too well that the law costs too much and it isn’t working like the Administration promised.”