Last year’s enrollment total for ObamaCare was inflated by nearly 400,000 due to a mistake that helped push the tally past the often-cited target of 7 million, the Obama administration said Thursday.
Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said the error — which was unearthed in an investigation by House Republicans — was inadvertent.
“While we understand some will be skeptical, our clarity that this is mistake and the fact that we have quickly corrected the numbers should give people confidence,” Burwell wrote during an online chat hosted by MSNBC.
The administration counted 380,000 enrollments in dental-only plans in its much-touted enrollment figure of 7.3 million, according to an investigation by House Oversight Committee that was first reported by Bloomberg News.
The correct figure for enrollments in healthcare coverage is 6.7 million, HHS spokesman Ben Wakana wrote in a statement Thursday. He said the dental-only plans were “erroneously counted” and would no longer be included in enrollment figures.
Burwell said officials would be looking into the cause of the misreported data, but declined to say whether the results of the probe would be made public.
“We will be putting in place measures to ensure that this kind of mistake does not occur again after we understand why it happened,” she said on the MSNBC chat.
Republicans in Congress have been deeply suspicious of the administration’s numbers on ObamaCare, and said it’s clear that officials have been cooking the books.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight Committee, said he doubts that the administration made a mistake.
“The claim that this was only accident stretches credulity,” Issa wrote in a statement. "HHS must provide a clear and detailed account of who knew about this decision and when they knew it."
Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin HatchTax reform: Starting place for jobs, growth Overnight Finance: Senate Dems dig in as shutdown looms | Trump taps fast-food exec for Labor chief | Portland's new CEO tax Mnuchin, Price meet with GOP senators MORE (R-Utah) condemned the Obama administration for what he called a "numbers game."
"Creative accounting aside, there are still many more questions the administration needs to answer regarding these numbers," Hatch said. "Despite claims by this White House that the health law and its execution have been transparent, the facts continue to tell a different story."
After coming under fire for a disastrous rollout, the Obama administration last spring trumpeted the final enrollment tally, with President Obama announcing enrollment had exceeded 7 million in a celebratory statement from the Rose Garden.
“Armageddon has not arrived,” Obama said.
HHS got in on the act, promoting the enrollment total on Twitter with the hash tag “#7MillionAndCounting.”
Before reaching that threshold, the administration has insisted there was no enrollment target, even though then-HHS chief Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusLeaked email: Podesta pushed Tom Steyer for Obama’s Cabinet Romney: Trump victory 'very possible' Fighting for assisted living facilities MORE said in September 2013 that “success looks like at least 7 million people having signed up by the end of March 2014.”
The final ObamaCare enrollment initially topped 8 million, according to HHS, but that number was later cut by around 700,000 when some people failed to make payments for their plans.
Now, with the administration just days into the second enrollment period for ObamaCare, it’s clear that the benchmark of 7 million paying customers for 2014 was not hit.
The latest slip-up comes as HHS is still dealing with blowback from former administration consultant Jonathan Gruber, whose recently unearthed comments about how the “stupidity of voters” helped ObamaCare pass have further eroded public trust in the law.
Republicans have pounced on Gruber’s comments, turning his name into a verb to argue that the public was misled about the healthcare law from the start.
“First Americans got Grubered when the administration lied to Americans about the intent of the health insurance tax and now it appears the Obama administration fudged ObamaCare’s enrollment numbers by including dental plans,” GOP spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski wrote Thursday.
Issa also name-dropped Gruber on Thursday as he accused the administration of obscuring the true enrollment numbers.
“This administration still appears to be calling its ObamaCare transparency plan from the Jonathan Gruber playbook: dismissing the American public's right to know with the same deceptive arrogance that helped them pass the bill in the first place," Issa wrote in a statement.
HHS has been notoriously slow to disclose figures for ObamaCare, and was often at war with reporters last year as officials refused to provide updates on how the enrollment drive was going.
The Oversight Committee requested a breakdown of the enrollment data in September and learned that it had included dental plans. Previously, HHS had previously reported dental plans separately.
In a May report, the HHS wrote, “to the extent possible, duplication associated with standalone dental plan selection has been removed from the data shown in this table.”
The department says it has been careful to ensure that is meeting, if not exceeding, its projections.
Earlier this month, HHS announced that it was revising its 2015 enrollment target to 9.1 million — about 3 million less than previously expected.
Republicans criticized the new projection, calling it an attempt to lower expectations to ensure the target is met.
This story was last updated at 5:23 p.m.