All-Star Panel: WH dials back ObamaCare enrollment projections

'Special Report' All-Star panel weighs in



SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Today, we have put out the new effectuated enrollment before we go into open enrollment. We have that number coming out of October. That number is 7.1 million. That's the number of people currently enrolled and paying in the marketplace. Probably the market will grow between 25 percent and 30 percent this year. The number that we are going to aim for this year is 9.1 million.


BILL HEMMER, ANCHOR: So that is a drop in the expectation yet again. And this what was put out seven months ago, April of 2014, this was the expectation 2015, 13 million. Now that's down. In 2016, it was 24 million, in 2017, 25 million. We are a considerable distance away from that. Back to the panel right now. And Mara, I think the key comment in that was that this is the aim, which means that is the goal, which means it is still a moving target.

MARA LIASSON, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: That's right. It's still a moving target. I think it's better to lowball because, what if they get 10 million? They can say it surpassed our expectations. You don't want to be in a situation where you come in under your own expectations.

But look the ACA is not only still a moving target. There are a tremendous number of challenges to the ACA. First of all, they have got to get the website to work without a hitch this time. They have got to get people signed up. The have got to get through the Supreme Court. And don't forget, we just had a whole slate of new Republican governors elected that could decide to not expand Medicaid in their states, not run their own exchanges, lots of changes coming this year, I think.    

HEMMER: Is it as simple as that? Is it a lowball to bring expectations down, Chuck?

CHARLES LANE, OPINION WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think they have had trouble in the past with raising expectations. So maybe it's smart to try lowering them this time. But I also think you have to look at this 9.1 million number and say, like, well, in a way, if fewer people have to go on the exchange, maybe that's a good thing because that means other people are retaining their employer paid insurance. You know, one of the things that people have never been sure about is will this program ultimately result in a lot of people being thrown off their employer-paid insurance and quote, unquote, "dumped in the exchanges"? So a lot of the critics of ObamaCare say the more people that go on the exchanges, the few people can keep their own doctors and stay with the health insurance they like and so forth. So if the number actually stays low, ironically, then I think the critics should be happy.

LIASSON: Total number insured.

LANE: But the reasons were some people weren't paying so they're off the rolls.

HEMMER: The number they're giving is the number for the exchanges, not the total insured.


STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: But it could have profound effects on the pools -- on the risk pools. The interesting thing -- you may be right that what they are doing is trying to lowball. But it seems to me if they are lowballing, they're still too high. There was an article on October 31 in Reuters saying that the insurance industry expected maybe 20 percent growth, and here you have her saying 25 to 30 percent growth. You have industry experts today saying maybe there are 6 - 6.5 million currently enrolled and paying. She is saying 7.1. All of the number, even if they're trying to lowball, still sound inflated.       

HEMMER: Quickly, there were two significant developments on this law in four days. On Friday afternoon you have the Supreme Court ruling, they're going to take this on again about the subsidies that are given to states.  In addition to that you've got Republicans taking control in two months.        

LIASSON: The Supreme Court can do a lot more than the Republicans can. If you look at the thing, what can Republicans do? They can certainly vote to repeal it. The president will veto that. The can get rid of the medical device tax, maybe they can get rid of the employer mandate.

HEMMER: Would they support that?

LIASSON: I don't know if that would get through a filibuster and a veto, but I think they will try. The Supreme Court, however, could rule, we don't know if they will, they could rule that subsidies can only go through an exchange that's run by a state, not the federal government.

HEMMER: Chuck?

LANE: Well, I think that's the biggest wild card is what the Supreme Court could do. But I think the medical device tax actually could pass with a filibuster-proof or, sorry, veto proof majority in the Senate.

LIASSON: What would it do to ObamaCare?

LANE: Well, that's $28 million that would come out of the financing of the program -- I'm not sure it would. I mean, I'm not sure that the Republicans would agree to a bill.

HAYES: They wouldn't...

LANE: But, you have a lot of Democrats -- Elizabeth Warren, Al Franken, people like that who have opposed this device tax.

HAYES: And I think this is what Republicans will end up doing. They will be trying to pick off Democrats. Democrats were sensitive to this either because they are up in 2016 or otherwise don't like to be seen as behind the bill. Picking them off on -- and the employer mandate, potentially the individual mandate -- they will have these kind of votes if Republicans are smart. I mean, there is the possibility that Republicans, some in leadership, don't want to press forward on ObamaCare. The results of the 2014 election, given the fact that so many Republicans ran so hard on ObamaCare, it would be, in my view, foolish in the extreme if Republicans decided to take the foot off the gas.

HEMMER: Thanks to our panel, terrific. Thank you, Mara, Chuck, Steve, nice to see you.

That's it for the panel, but stay tuned to meet some of this week's featured players on Sunday night football.