Administration: Millions don’t want ObamaCare 'taken away'

The Obama administration is touting its better-than-expected ObamaCare enrollment period as it turns to next month’s pivotal Supreme Court fight over the healthcare law.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell argued Wednesday that the 11.4 million sign-ups show the law “is now an important part of everyday lives of millions of Americans.”

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She also argued that people are “tired of the back and forth here in Washington” about the law, which she stressed was here to stay.

“While we have more work to do, the numbers tell the story, and the story is clear. The Affordable Care Act is working and families and businesses and taxpayers are all better off as a result,” Burwell told reporters.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments next month on whether it is legal for subsidies to be distributed to people who buy health insurance on the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov.

The challengers say a provision in ObamaCare stipulates that the subsidies can only be provided to people who purchase insurance from an exchange established by a state.

The Obama administration rejects that interpretation, saying it's clear that the law was written to make subsidies available to everyone who qualifies.

A ruling against the administration could stop people from getting subsidies in the 37 states that are on the federal exchange, which would deal a significant blow to ObamaCare.

At least 6.5 million people qualify for the subsidies so far this year, Burwell announced Wednesday. She also specifically praised strong sign-ups in Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Pennsylvania – large states that stand to lose subsidies because they operate on the federal exchange. Both Florida and Texas exceeded 1 million signups.

Burwell and other administration officials argue the 2015 enrollment numbers are evidence Americans want to preserve the law. They hope it will make the Supreme Court reluctant to side against the administration in the King v. Burwell case.

“One thing is for sure, Americans don’t want the progress we’ve made to be taken away from them,” Burwell said as she broke down the numbers Wednesday.

The White House also blasted out the new figures on its social media and listservs.

“Today’s news makes it harder to understand why Congress would vote repeatedly to repeal reform, or why well-funded interest groups are still trying to challenge the law wherever they can,” the White House wrote in an email to supporters.

That argument, they hope, will make the Supreme Court reluctant to side against the administration in the King V. Burwell case.

Burwell said the strong figures are "confirming" to the administration's side in the Supreme Court case, though she repeatedly declined to discuss the potential fallout of three-quarters of states losing subsidies.

“I'm going to stick where I've been all along on this issue. We’re confident of our argument and believe we’re in the right place,” she said.

The administration had expected that 9 million people would enroll, though an estimate before the first year of ObamaCare’s enrollment had put the figure close to 13 million.

The 11.4 million tally is still likely to change, Burwell warned. Insurers must now weed out customers who signed up for coverage but do not pay their premiums.

“There will be additions and subtractions throughout the year,” she said, adding that she “remains optimistic” that the 11.4 million target will be reached.

Signups for the federal marketplace ended Sunday, though about 150,000 people will have extra time because of high demand over the weekend. More than two dozen states have also extended their deadlines.

This year’s signup period, which spanned November to February, ended up with several million more enrollees than last year, although it is several weeks shorter. It was also the first enrollment period for Burwell, who took the helm in June.

Burwell pointed to the far more stable HealthCare.gov website, which had virtually collapsed after last year’s launch, as one reason for the better figures. This year, the website was working 99 percent of the time, Burwell said.

She also pointed to several new faces in the HealthCare.gov leadership team, such as Marketplace CEO Kevin Counihan and Deputy Administrator Andy Slavitt. Last year’s launch lacked a central leader, which administration officials later acknowledged as a mistake.

The administration also forced itself to become a “fast-learning organization,” she said, adding, “We were trying to keep turning that crank quickly.”

 — This story was last updated at 1:39 p.m.