Burwell: ObamaCare is working

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Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia BurwellSylvia Mary Mathews BurwellWhy Trump will win the wall fight Price was a disaster for HHS — Time for an administrator, not an ideologue Overnight Healthcare: GOP chairman to introduce pre-existing condition bill MORE on Tuesday declared that ObamaCare is working in a major address aimed at changing the public debate about the reform law.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Burwell said the Affordable Care Act has lowered the number of uninsured adults by 25 percent and lent security to families who might otherwise struggle with medical debt. 

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"When you consider the law through the lens of affordability, access and quality, the evidence points to a clear conclusion. The Affordable Care Act is working — and families, businesses, and taxpayers are better off as a result," she told the audience. 

Burwell announced that the number of insurers in the marketplaces will increase by 25 percent next year, which she said is a sign of the system's health. 

The speech marked the second time in roughly two weeks that Burwell has argued publicly for "turning down the volume" in debates over the healthcare law. While the reform law remains unpopular, it is increasingly entrenched four years after its enactment. 

Burwell, the former White House budget director, has acted strategically to push the U.S. healthcare debate toward calmer ground before the midterm elections and the start of ObamaCare's next open enrollment period. 

In her four months at HHS, she has reserved nearly all of her solo public appearances for speeches touting ObamaCare. Behind the scenes, she has been courting Republican supporters in Congress.

Prior to Tuesday's speech, HHS staff blitzed the press with positive data about the healthcare law. 

The carefully coordinated approach points to an awareness that the success of ObamaCare's second enrollment period will help to define Burwell's legacy. 

The remarks also reflect Burwell's desire to avoid the pitfalls of her predecessor, Kathleen Sebelius, who became an enemy to Republicans. Her reputation pummeled during the law's botched rollout. 

That period not only brought political conflict over the law to a peak, but also revealed significant weaknesses in federal health officials' approach to communicating with the press and public about ObamaCare. 

Burwell acknowledged some of these weaknesses on Tuesday. "I’ll be straightforward with you: Those of us who support this law haven’t done a very good job of explaining why middle-class families who already had insurance are better off," she said. 

With the second enrollment period looming, HHS is also grappling with questions about the status of HealthCare.gov. Two independent audits of the site recently found existing vulnerabilities that have raised concerns that the system is unprepared for another sign-up rush. 

Burwell indirectly spoke to these concerns on Tuesday, saying her team is "very focused on security." 

"We are checking off outstanding items on last year's to-do list, cleaning up the back-end functionality and adding functionality for renewing and enrolling in coverage," she said. 

"We're prioritizing the most important items and areas to improve, consistent with our deadlines. We're focused on giving ourselves the appropriate amount of time for testing."