Appearing in the White House briefing room days
before leaving the national stage for a week-long trip to Asia,
Obama used a news conference to make the case that the Affordable
Care Act had mended nicely from its disastrous October rollout.
He announced that 8 million people had now signed up for health
insurance and that 35 percent of enrollees through the federal
marketplace are under the age of 35. For the healthcare law to
succeed, young, healthy people must sign up and pay premiums to
offset the healthcare costs for older Americans.
Obama's remarks reflected deep concerns at the White House that
Republicans may be able to topple Democrats from control of the U.S.
Senate in November elections and build on their majority in the
House of Representatives. A Republican-run Congress would make
legislative achievements in Obama's last two years in office
He said under the 2010 healthcare law, the share of Americans with
insurance has grown, the growth of healthcare costs has slowed,
hundreds of millions of Americans who already have insurance now
enjoy new benefits and protections and no one with a pre-existing
health condition can be denied coverage.
"Those days are over. And this thing is working," Obama said.
Experts said reaching the 8 million figure is positive for the
"The number of people who have signed up exceeds what anyone could
have imagined last fall when the website problems emerged," said
Larry Levitt, an expert in healthcare reform and vice-president at
the Kaiser Family Foundation. "There should be little question that
the law is working to cover millions of the uninsured, though
enrollment will need to ramp up as expected in the coming years to
Obama, whose job approval has dipped below 50 percent, a range that
experts say could spell danger for Democrats in the elections, urged
Republicans to give up their fight to repeal and replace the law.
He said he is willing to consider changes to the law to improve it,
amid complaints that premiums are too high and that some people will
not be able to keep their doctors despite Obama's previous promise.
But he said to make changes would require an attitude adjustment
from his Republican critics.
"I recognize that their party is going through, you know, the stages
of grief, right? Anger and denial and all that stuff. And we're not
at acceptance yet," Obama said.
REPUBLICANS STICK TO THEIR CRITICISM
Republicans, who have put themselves in a strong position for the
November elections by hammering away at Obamacare, made clear they
had no plans to change their strategy.
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Republican leaders said Obama glossed over the problems with the
"The president may want to silence any further debate about
Obamacare, but in doing so he betrays a lack of confidence in his
own policies and scant regard for those most affected by the law,"
said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
Administration officials have previously talked about achieving a
level of 38 percent of people in that age range to give insurers a
strong mix of healthier members whose premium payments help offset
the cost of older, sicker policyholders.
"I've said before this law won't solve all the problems in our
healthcare system. We know we've got more work to do. But we now
know for a fact that repealing the Affordable Care Act would
increase the deficit, raise premiums for millions of Americans and
take insurance away from millions more," Obama said.
Obama's news conference appeared to signal a more urgent White
House effort to help Democrats in November. The two sides have
largely settled into campaign mode with little prospect for major
legislation in coming months.
A long-sought immigration reform deal seemed more elusive than ever
after a phone call on Wednesday between Obama and the No. 2 House
Republican, Eric Cantor, who said afterward Obama "still has not
learned how to effectively work with Congress."
Obama said he had called Cantor to wish him a happy Passover and
tell him there was bipartisan support for an immigration deal.
"I actually had a very pleasant conversation with Mr. Cantor," he
(Additional reporting by Will Dunham and Sharon Begley; Editing by
Eric Beech and Mohammad Zargham)
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