The Obama administration wanted sweeter numbers for Obamacare, so it got some help from dentists.
A new report Thursday revealed the administration pulled a fast-one with enrollment numbers for Obamacare, boosting a tally by including up to 400,000 dental plans—without publicly disclosing that fact at the time.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell within hours took to Twitter to call the misstatement "unacceptable" and promised to take action "to ensure this kind of mistake does not occur again."
But that didn't stem widespread criticism for HHS's lack of transparency on the issue, with a top House Republican demanding that the Obama administration "must explained padded Obamacare enrollment figures," including who knew about them and when they knew it.
In May, the administration had said that about 8 million people had enrolled in individual Obamacare health plans, and also said that another 1.1 million were separately enrolled in dental plans.
Read MoreSicker seniors: US elder health lags
But in September, when Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner announced there were 7.3 million "Americans enrolled in Health Insurance Marketplace coverage," and failed to mention that dental plan numbers were part of that tally, noted the story Thursday in Bloomberg News.
Because of that, news reports treated it as if Obamacare enrollment had dropped by about 700,000 people in the intervening months. That number was seen as reflecting the fact that some people failed to pay for the premiums for their individual plans, got coverage elsewhere, or dropped out for other reasons. The general health press has barely, at best, ever paid attention to dental plans enrollment numbers, and like Obamacare advocates and detractors has focused on the number of people enrolled in health plans that cover primary care doctors, specialists, hospitals and prescription drugs.
But without the dental numbers being included, the tally of individual Obamacare enrollees would have fallen below 7 million people, to 6.97 million in September, Bloomberg reported.
The news outlet cited calculations by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which used data from CMS.