Report: CMS removed information on the ACA from Medicare site

Joseph Burns

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Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

The Medicare program has removed a page from Medicare.gov that explained what Medicare members need to know about the Affordable Care Act and made other changes to the website, according to a report today from the Web Integrity Project of the Sunlight Foundation.

The “Affordable Care Act and Medicare” page was removed and changes were made to the “Medicare and Marketplace” page, according to the report (PDF), “Removal of the ‘Affordable Care Act & Medicare’ webpage and corresponding links from the Medicare website.” The page that was removed included a link to the “Medicare and Marketplace” page and information related to Medicare coverage protected under the ACA, preventive services covered under Medicare and discounts on brand-name prescription drugs, the report explained. The page was removed and the changes were made in December without notice, the report said.

Note that under the ACA, all preventive services are covered for free without the need for individuals to pay deductibles or copayments.

A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said the changes were made, “based on advice from career web staff who understand how beneficiaries and web users navigate the site” and were made as part of a regular review of content on Medicare.gov. As part of that review, CMS staff identified two similar pages, the one titled “The Affordable Care Act & Medicare” and one titled “Medicare & the Marketplace,” the spokesman said. “The removal of the ACA page is consistent with our curation of content and standard web practice around other laws that impact Medicare.”

In addition, the spokesman said, “We decided, based on outdated content and low usage, that the ‘Affordable Care Act & Medicare’ page was no longer relevant or needed and took action to remove the page on Dec. 21.”

Because the Medicare & the Marketplace page focuses on questions relevant to beneficiaries, the staff decided to leave that page in place and update it as needed, he said. The page is for those enrolled in a Marketplace plan who become eligible for Medicare and have questions about the transition. “The page also includes a very extensive ‘frequently asked questions’ document on the subject,” he said. “This page replaced the ‘Affordable Care Act and Medicare’ page as the one page on this issue.”

About the removed page, Rachel Bergman, the Web Integrity Project’s director of programs, said, “Now that the ‘Affordable Care Act and Medicare’ page, has been removed and the link along with it, access to the ‘Medicare and Marketplace’ page is greatly reduced.”

Also, she added, the staff at CMS could have edited the page to revise or remove inaccurate or outdated information.

In March, the Web Integrity Project reported that pages on other health care topics were removed, including content about lesbian and bisexual health and pages on breast cancer.

In the report on lesbian and bisexual health, Federal women’s health office obscures lesbian and bisexual fact sheet online, the project said, “The ‘Lesbian and bisexual health’ page is no longer linked from anywhere on the Office of Women’s Health website and the previous URL leads to a removed page.” In its report on the breast cancer page, Unexplained censorship of women’s health website renews questions about Trump administration commitment to public health, the project said, “The specificity of these removals adds more evidence to a growing concern: that public information for vulnerable populations is being targeted for removal or simply hidden.”

Following the project’s reports, the Office of Women’s Health added a page about breast cancer, the project reported.

After project staff asked HHS about the removal of the “Lesbian and bisexual health” fact sheet, the page was added back under a separate URL, said Bergman. “It remains live, but is not linked from any other pages on the OWH website, remaining inaccessible by navigating through the website,” she added. Members of the U.S. Congress have written to HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar condemning the removals and seeking answers about why the pages were removed, she said.

In March, Dan Diamond reported for Politico that multiple LGBT health resources were removed  between September and October 2017 from WomensHealth.gov. John Paul Brammer at NBC News and Amanda Michelle Gomez at ThinkProgress also reported on the changes to the website.

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