The Department of Health and Human Services on Monday estimated that about 9 million people would be enrolled in an Obamacare health plan by the end of 2015, 4 million less than an estimate from a separate government agency.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that 13 million people would be enrolled in Obamacare by 2015. But HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell was already backing off that number a month ago, a sign that she didn’t believe it could reach that target.
HHS released its predictions to reporters at 1 p.m., but Burwell spoke in Washington soon after and said HHS is hoping for a bit more than 9 million after 2015.
“The number that we are going to aim for this year is 9.1 million,” she said.
Burrell didn’t say exactly why the HHS target is so far below the CBO estimate. But CBO is a separate agency, and Burwell has indicated that officials are learning more about the enrollment process as it goes along.
For example, while 8 million enrolled, Burwell said there are now just 7.1 million people still paying for health coverage after the first year of enrollment. Burwell said a certain percentage of people won’t re-enroll, and said people are moving from employer-based coverage to Obamacare plans more slowly than many first thought.
The disastrous enrollment process last year, which featured glitchy and down websites, also seems to have dampened enrollment. Burwell admitted that more problems could be coming, but said HHS officials are working to react more quickly to problems as they arise.
“We will have things that won’t go right,” she said. “We will have outages, we will have downtime.”
Still, she predicted a much better experience for people shopping online this year. “Open enrollment this year will be a positive experience for the consumer,” she said.
Another problem could be that various legal challenges to the law could make people shy about signing up. For example, the Supreme Court has decided to hear a case over whether the government is legally providing insurance subsidies to people in states that did not set up their own health insurance exchanges.
A ruling that federal subsidies cannot go to those people might dampen the affordability of plans. But Burwell stressed that for now, there is no ruling that stops these subsidies.
“I think what’s most important is that nothing has changed,” she said.
Open enrollment for the second year of Obamacare starts on Saturday.