HHS Secretary Burwell: Obamacare 'now woven into the fabric of our nation'

Dive Brief:

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell turned a routine enrollment briefing into an impassioned plea Monday to preserve the Affordable Care Act, which has not only been a pillar of outgoing President Obama's legacy, but of HHS as well.
  • Burwell argued the health reform law is “now woven into the fabric of our nation,” suggesting that at this point, it would be too devastating to too many people to actually repeal it as president-elect Trump promised during his campaign, The Washington Post reported.
  • Her address provided the first major public comments on the ACA from current federal officials since last week's election results shocked the administration and much of the nation.

Dive Insight:

Sentimentality played a major role in Burwell's plea, as she noted not only what the loss of the ACA would mean to the millions who now depend on it for coverage, but what it would mean to HHS as well.

She described the past week as tough for many at HHS and noted the historic nature of the ACA, whether or not it remains. She also pointed toward the surge in enrollment following the election as evidence consumers want the law to continue. The day after the election, as the nation wrapped its head around the outcome, 105,000 people signed up for ACA plans, the most on any given day since enrollment opened November 1.

HHS has not yet released any further statistics on how enrollment has done in the days since, the Post noted. Enrollment is open through January, past when Trump will be inaugurated January 20. Prior to the election, officials projected 11.4 million people would obtain ACA coverage for 2017, though it now remains to be seen whether that number will be impacted by people either scrambling to get into the program before it is potentially set to phase out, or conversely, abandoning it early in anticipation of its demise.

President-elect Donald Trump's comments since last week suggest he is open to amending the ACA to keep aspects of the health law he likes – such as allowing adult children to stay on their parents' plans to age 26 and requiring insurers to cover people who have pre-existing conditions – and consider some kind of compromise that amends rather than scraps current policy. That said, it will be hard to take out bits of the law without affecting other portions so it will be interesting to see what plan Trump proposes when he takes office.

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