Days after a federal judge ruled the entire law unconstitutional, President Obama's Affordable Care Act has posted unexpectedly strong sign-ups for coverage next year, government figures released Wednesday show.
Despite repeated claims by Democrats that the Trump administration has intentionally "sabotaged" Obama's signature healthcare policy achievement by cutting down on promotional advertising and unsettling insurance markets by halting subsidies and threatening a full repeal, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said nearly 8.5 million people had enrolled as of last Saturday's deadline. It was unclear how many were automatically re-enrolled.
Approximately a dozen states are still left to report their figures, and Wednesday's number was about 4 percent below a comparable statistic from the same time last year.
But earlier progress reports from the government had pointed to a potential enrollment decline of more than 10 percent. The new numbers suggest that if President Trump did attempt to "kill Obamacare by a thousand cuts" -- as The New York Times editorial board wrote earlier this year -- he has not succeeded, health care experts said.
"Despite everything that has been thrown at this market, politically, with premium increases and also regulation changes, there is still a core group of Americans who want this insurance and buy this insurance every year," said Chris Sloan, a director at the consulting firm Avalere Health. "They are a hardy group of people."
In a bombshell opinion on Friday, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor ruled that last year's tax cut bill knocked the constitutional foundation from under ObamaCare by eliminating the penalty under the individual mandate for not having coverage. The rest of the law cannot be separated from that provision and is therefore invalid, he wrote.
Supporters of the law immediately said they would appeal. "Today's misguided ruling will not deter us: our coalition will continue to fight in court for the health and well-being of all Americans," said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is leading a coalition of states defending the ACA.
The White House applauded O'Connor's ruling, but the law remains in place while appeals proceed.
The full picture of this year's health insurance sign-ups is not yet clear. Not included in the latest enrollment figures for 39 states using HealthCare.gov are totals from about a dozen states running their own enrollment efforts. Also to be added in are HealthCare.gov customers who signed up close to deadline, or left phone numbers for a callback.
Analysts said the numbers show staying power for the health law, despite continuing political problems and high premiums that put coverage out of reach for people who make too much money to qualify for subsidized premiums.
"There is still a core group of Americans who want this insurance."
CMS Administrator Seema Verma said the administration has taken strong steps to run a smooth and efficient sign-up process and Wednesday's numbers are "another sign that the administration's efforts are working." Verma said HealthCare.gov was down for less than an hour this open enrollment season.
The Republican-led Congress repealed the health law's requirement that most Americans get health insurance or risk fines from the IRS, a move that many experts predicted would lead to a drop in enrollment next year. But Verma said that doesn't seem to have happened.
She said the main reason enrollment has continued to decline is because premiums are still unaffordable for people who don't qualify for financial help.
Nearly 11.8 million people signed up during last year's open enrollment season, counting consumers in all 50 states.
The health law provides subsidized private insurance for people who don't have coverage through their jobs. It also gives states the option to expand their Medicaid programs to cover more low-income adults. Since it passed in 2010, about 20 million people have gained coverage, keeping the nation's uninsured rate under 10 percent.
Fox News' Judson Berger and The Associated Press contributed to this report.