Appearing in the White House Rose Garden, the
president said 7.1 million people had signed up for coverage under
the law, known as Obamacare, and called for Republicans to end their
bid to repeal it. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner
repeated his pledge to repeal the law on Monday.
"This law is doing what it's supposed to do. It's working," Obama
said, with Vice President Joe Biden standing at his side. "The
debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is
here to stay."
His remarks represented a victory lap for the administration, which
suffered from the botched unveiling of the program's primary
website, HealthCare.gov, and wavering support from Americans some
three years after the U.S. Congress passed the healthcare law over
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has taken
the brunt of the criticism for the shaky rollout, sat beaming in the
front row during the Rose Garden ceremony. White House chief of
staff Denis McDonough gave her a hug before Obama's remarks.
Experts had predicted a last-minute surge in enrollment. The figure
could give a boost to Democrats, who have suffered from the
criticism of the law, ahead of November congressional elections.
Obama's party is seeking to hold on to its control of the U.S.
Senate and minimize losses in the Republican-controlled House, but
the problems with Obamacare have complicated congressional races and
handed Republicans a key talking point for skeptical constituents.
Republicans on Tuesday were quick to highlight outstanding questions
including how many of the enrollees had seen their plans canceled
because of the new law; how many people saw their premiums go down,
and how many people who selected plans actually completed the
process and paid their premiums.
"We don't know of course, exactly what they have signed up for, we
don't know how many have paid," Senate Minority Leader Mitch
McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill, referring to the enrollees
in the program.
"What we do know is that all across the country our constituents are
having an unpleasant interaction with Obamacare. Whether they can
sign up for a policy or not, they are discovering, of course, higher
premiums, a higher deductible."
White House officials dismissed the Republicans' criticism. Speaking
to reporters ahead of Obama's announcement, one official noted that
Democrats seeking to get voters from the coalition that elected
Obama to support them would not be able to do so without embracing
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters her members were
not running away from the issue.
"Our members are out there on the offensive on this issue because
of what we did, and we're proud of it, and we're proud of what it
means in the lives of Americans," Pelosi said after a meeting with
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Monday's deadline for initial enrollment in the program came after a
surge in registrations despite the return of technical problems,
including a longer-than-expected maintenance session, although
nothing as serious as the issues that beset the website's launch in
The site on Tuesday announced that open enrollment for Obamacare had
closed, but people whose applications were thwarted by technical
problems would be given a chance to finish their registration.
By last week, more than 6 million people had signed up for private
health coverage through the new Obamacare insurance markets,
surpassing a target set after the disastrous rollout called the
enrollment process into question.
Industry analysts echoed Republicans' calls for more information
about those who had signed up.
"We still have a lot to learn about what underlies those numbers in
terms of who signed up and how many were newly insured people versus
switching from other coverage," said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow
at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
"We have more to see ... about how many of them actually completed
enrollment and how much coverage expansion was accomplished."
The healthcare law, one of Obama's key promises as a presidential
candidate in 2008, was intended to expand access to healthcare
coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, so having enrollment
figures that reflect newly insured people is critical to the
Having a robust percentage of healthy young people to offset older
enrollees is also important. White House spokesman Jay Carney said
such details were yet available, but he said the demographic mix
would be sufficient to ensure that the health market places that
form the cornerstone of the law would function smoothly.
(Additional reporting by David Morgan, Thomas Ferraro and Larry
Downing; editing by G Crosse)
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