Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine snapshot of the removed “The Affordable Care Act & Medicare” page from December 18, 2017.
If you’re one of the over 55 million people who is covered by Medicare, you might want to know a bit about if and how your coverage is affected by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). What preventive services are covered by Medicare under the ACA? How does the ACA help make treatments from different health care providers more consistent for Medicare beneficiaries? What do people with Medicare need to do and not do on the Health Insurance Marketplace created by the ACA?
But if you’re looking for the answers to these questions, you won’t see them on Medicare.gov, where they were recently easy to find.
In December 2017, a page titled “The Affordable Care Act & Medicare,” which provided answers to the above questions as well as other information, was removed from the Medicare website without notice. The page previously linked to HealthCare.gov — the website for the federal health insurance marketplace — and to another webpage on the Medicare domain called “Medicare & the Marketplace,” making it inaccessible on the Medicare website and impossible to navigate to from the “About Us” section of that website, where it’s hosted.
Today, the Web Integrity Project is releasing a new report that details this page removal and the other pages’ content changes. But beyond what’s actually been changed, what are implications of this page and content removal?
Before and after snapshots of Medicare.gov’s About Us page demonstrating removal of links and descriptive text about the Affordable Care Act.
As we’ve noted in a previous post, when an agency does not inform the public about a removal of information like this, it can create confusion about whether the removal indicates that the information was inaccurate or outdated, whether the information was unintentionally removed during website maintenance, or whether the removal indicates a change in the status of the page’s underlying policy.
With the uncertain future of the ACA, the fact that portions of it have been affected by the recent tax law, and the many implications a repeal of the law would have on Medicare beneficiaries, any removal of information about the ACA can be particularly confusing.
In addition to guiding users to answers to the questions posed above, “The Affordable Care Act & Medicare” and “Medicare & the Marketplace” pages provided information about discounts on brand-name prescription drugs under the ACA and Medicare, how Medicare recipients should fill out income tax forms, whether having just Medicare Part A or Medicare Part B meets the health insurance requirement, and fraudulent activities that the public should be wary of on the Marketplace.
The inaccessibility of these webpages creates confusion about whether this information still applies to Medicare recipients. Was the removal done inadvertently, meaning the information may be put back on the Medicare website? Or has Medicare coverage actually been altered by changes to the ACA?
Webpages about Medicare and the Marketplace on HealthCare.gov suggest that Medicare coverage has not been altered, and that the content previously found on the removed Medicare.gov page remains accurate. These pages contain similar information about how the ACA has expanded Medicare drug coverage and preventive services, and provide answers about navigating between the Marketplace and Medicare coverage as older people and people with disabilities become eligible for Medicare.
But if this information is still accurate and is available on the website for the Health Insurance Marketplace, why has it been removed from Medicare’s website? And why isn’t Medicare.gov directing to the HealthCare.gov website, where users can still find this information? Regardless of any uncertainty about what will happen to the ACA in the future, the health care law is still in place and includes provisions that affect Medicare coverage. Users of Medicare.gov should have access to important information that they need and should be able to understand why information about those provisions is no longer accessible.