House Democrats are pressing the Trump administration to pay millions of dollars to outside groups who help people enroll for health insurance in the Obamacare exchanges.
The administration announced in late August that it was cutting the grants to the groups, known as navigators, nearly 40 percent, or about $23 million. It then froze the funding on Sept. 1 that was expected to be awarded to grantees the following day.
The administration also cut funding for Obamacare ads by 90 percent, and earlier this year it announced it was cutting the open enrollment period in half to six weeks, beginning Nov. 1 and ending Dec. 15.
Democrats have accused the Trump administration of deliberately trying to sabotage the law through those efforts so that fewer people will enroll in the program, making it less successful. They argue that navigators can help people who don't speak English or people who might not be aware of how the law works, and can help answer questions customers have even if they don't sign up through a navigator directly.
"Navigators are an essential resource for the American people, and the navigator program is critical to the success of open enrollment," wrote 31 Democrats in a letter to top federal health officials, led by Rep. Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire. "We urge you to unfreeze these funds immediately. ... Destabilizing the navigator program could further compound the challenges consumers will face in understanding when and how to enroll."
The navigator groups expect to hear this week about whether they will receive any funding and how much.
Other responses to the administration's decision have been pouring in from congressional Democrats. On Monday, ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to the Trump administration asking about the decision to slash funding.
Health officials have maintained that the reason for the cuts is to be more efficient and provide money to activities more likely to get a return on investment in terms of sign-ups. According to the administration, members of the navigator program in 2016 received $62.5 million in federal grants to sign up just 81,426 people, which is about 0.7 percent of total enrollees.
For the 2017 open enrollment, which ended Jan. 31, the Obama administration spent $100 million on ads in a push to enroll younger, healthier customers. That was double the $50 million that was spent on ads for the 2016 open enrollment.