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Obama administration making no predictions this time around on Obamacare enrollments

WASHINGTON, DC SEPTEMBER 23: Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell speaks at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, September 23, 2014. The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell on Thursday declined to predict how many people would sign up for Obamacare during the second open enrollment period, and indicated that the number may fall short of past estimates.

The Congressional Budget Office has predicted that 13 million people would be signed up for an insurance plan under the controversial law by 2015. But in response to a question about a numerical target, Burwell indicated that officials are not pledging to hit that number.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell declined on Thursday to predict enrollment numbers under Obamacare for 2015. The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images

"There is a CBO number that exists, 13 million… that is based on a trajectory that eventually gets to 25 [million]," she said. "And I think one of the things that is different from when that number was originally put out is, now we actually have information about what happened in the first open enrollment."

"And so, how one thinks about the slope of that line over a period of time is something that we are analyzing and working on, and working on from this perspective," she said.

Burwell didn't say specifically what the administration has learned, but the first open enrollment period was plagued by computer glitches that prevented most people from signing up for a plan until the last few months. Officials have said those same glitches won't occur, and if true, that could boost enrollment significantly.

However, officials have also watched hundreds of thousands of people sign up for a plan only to drop out soon afterwards. The administration said 8 million people enrolled in a plan by the end of the first enrollment period, but as of now, only about 7.2 million people are still paying for a plan.

Other factors might also lead to lower enrollment numbers. For example, two federal courts have rejected a rule that lets the government give subsidies to people who buy health plans on the federal exchange.

The Supreme Court may ultimately have to decide this question, but any uncertainty in the meantime might make it harder for people to sign up for a plan.

Rising insurance premiums could also contribute to reduced enrollment. Many have argued the health plans under Obamacare are too expensive, and even insurance companies have found it hard to remain profitable under the law.

Obama administration officials are known to be looking for a way to subsidize unprofitable insurance companies, although Republicans have argued officials should not be allowed to bail them out.

If CBO's latest estimate is to come true, close to 6 million people would need to sign up for Obamacare in the coming enrollment period.

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