By Jonathan Easley - 03/12/14 11:03 AM EDT
The Obama administration will not delay ObamaCare's individual mandate or the March 31 deadline for enrolling in the new healthcare law, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday.
Sebelius ruled out the changes during testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee, where Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) noted the administration has made dozens of other changes or delays to the law.
“No, sir,” Sebelius responded.
Republicans have denounced the administration's refusal to make changes to the individual mandate and enrollment deadline even as it made changes to the law to benefit other groups.
Most notably, the administration has repeatedly delayed the mandate that employers offer their employees insurance.
House Republicans have decried that as a "double standard," and will vote this week on legislation that would delay the individual mandate for five years. The money saved from that action would be used to prevent a reduction in payments to doctors under Medicare.
The vote is expected to be a tough choice for many Democrats, given ObamaCare's unpopularity. The defeat of a Democrat in Tuesday's special election in Florida is exacerbating worries that the new law will be a drag on Democrats in this year's midterm elections.
Sebelius defended the delay of the employer mandate at Wednesday's hearing.
She said that the great majority of business owners, 94 percent, have fewer than 50 employees and are not affected by the law, and argued that the employer mandate delay was minor in the overall scheme of things because it would only reach about 2 percent of businesses nationwide.
Brady argued that delaying the employer mandate but not the individual mandate was unfair.
“How is it fair that you’ve delayed this law because it’s not workable for businesses of all sizes, but it’s not workable for families?” Brady asked Wednesday. “Why aren’t they getting the same treatment?”
On a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokeswoman Julie Bataille said even if officials wanted to, her agency didn’t have the authority to delay the enrollment deadline.
"We have no plans to extend the open enrollment period," Bataille said. "In fact, we don't actually have the statutory authority to extend the open enrollment period in 2014."
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) asked Sebelius, who was on that conference call, whether she agreed with that assessment.
“I haven’t seen their statements, but there is no delay beyond March 31,” she said.
More than 4.2 million people have enrolled in ObamaCare as of March 1.
There are less than three weeks left in open enrollment, and it seems increasingly unlikely the administration will hit the original Congressional Budget Office projections of enrolling 7 million people between October and March.
That projection was downgraded to 6 million following the early troubles with HealthCare.gov, and officials have sought to temper expectations since the botched rollout essentially shaved two months off the six-month open enrollment period.
During Tuesday's conference call with reporters, Bataille was asked repeatedly if the administration expected to hit the 6 million mark. She declined to answer, saying only that the administration expects “millions more” will sign up eventually.
Sebelius was similarly vague on Wednesday when pressed by Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) about what enrollment figure would constitute the rollout being deemed a success. In a September interview, Sebelius said success would be more than 7 million people signing up by March 31.
“Success looks like millions of people with affordable health coverage, which we will have by the end of March,” she said at the hearing.