Constituents can still get answers to questions about Obamacare. But an alarming silence on social media and government websites since the inauguration of President Donald Trump has left many Americans worried.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) denies claims that the agency has halted its communications to public officials and the press. But sources at agencies that include HHS, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Department of Agriculture have told the Huffington Post about communications lockdowns enforced on federal workers and agency officials by the Trump administration. The Associated Press and ProPublica reported that the EPA is enforcing a media blackout and freeze to its awards and contracts.
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs for Public Health Bill Hall told the Daily Dot that the claims related to HHS were false.
Hall later e-mailed the following statement to the Daily Dot on behalf of HHS, which it also received from a press aide at NIH:
“Contrary to erroneous media reports, HHS and its agencies continue to communicate fully about its work through all of its regular communication channels with the public, the media and other relevant audiences. There is no directive to do otherwise.”
HHS has not issued a single press release on its website since Jan. 18. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) last press release was on Jan. 18.
The CMS hotline for constituents who have questions about Obamacare is still up and running. A representative from the CMS hotline told the Daily Dot that the current administration’s move to repeal Obamacare would not impact those already enrolled in health insurance by the upcoming Jan. 31 open-enrollment deadlines.
But reports that sub-agencies of HHS received a memo instructing them to halt communications with public officials about Obamacare until agency leadership has had time to meet with the new presidential administration appear to be true.
A phone call and email from the Daily Dot to Christine Flowers, the head of communications at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences was forwarded to NIH’s press office.
Emma Wojtowicz, a press officer at NIH, told the Daily Dot in an email that the Huffington Post’s report of a “memo” that instructed HHS officials to hold on discussing new rules with public officials or posting on public forums is true.
— U.S. EPA (@EPA) January 19, 2017
But the directive itself appeared in a memorandum by Reince Priebus sent to federal agencies on behalf of the White House. The memo is a publicly available document that you can view on Whitehouse.gov. Nothing appears to have been obtained secretly or “leaked”
Wrote Wojtowicz in an email to the Daily Dot:
“NIH issued an email to the NIH Institute and Center directors providing guidance from HHS on new or pending regulation, policy or guidance. The HHS guidance instructs HHS Operating Divisions to hold on publishing new rules or guidance in the Federal Register or other public forums and discussing them with public officials until the Administration has had an opportunity to review them.”