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Obamacare Enrollment Exceeds 7 Million Target Despite Setback

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[April 02, 2014]  By Jeff Mason and Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters)  President Barack Obama's national healthcare program signed up more than 7 million people by the end of March, the president said on Tuesday, notching a rare victory after a months-long, glitch-filled rollout of the law.

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 Republican objections.


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.

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"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."

STRONG SURGE

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 the law.

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 Obama.

[ 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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