The milestone gives the White House some ammunition
to counter Republican critics, who have described the program as an
expensive flop in the build-up to midterm congressional campaigns in
November, when Democratic control of the U.S. Senate is at stake.
Only 10 days ago, the administration had pegged enrollment at more
than 5 million people, and enlisted celebrities and top government
officials to try to persuade more uninsured people, particularly the
young and healthy, to sign up.
The last-minute boost has exceeded the nonpartisan Congressional
Budget Office's estimate that 6 million people would sign up in the
program's first year, down from earlier expectations of 7 million
enrollees because of problems with websites used for shopping for
Obama's law, formally called the Affordable Care Act, aims to make
health coverage available to more of the nearly 50 million uninsured
people in the United States through government subsidies to
low-income households and rules prohibiting policies from excluding
members due to previous illnesses.
Opinion polls show the program is unpopular. A national survey by
the Pew Research Center between February 27 and March 16 found 53
percent disapproved of the law.
Obama's poll ratings have been hit hard by the poor rollout of the
program. The insurance policies of some Americans were canceled saw
because they no longer complied with new standards in the law, while
some people were stymied by the website, which failed to work well
for two months.
It's unclear how many of the more than 6 million signups are people
who did not previously have insurance. Also unclear is how many
people have paid for their policies, a step necessary for the plans
to take effect.
"Canceling millions of policies, then bragging when they sign up for
another one is a little odd, don't you think?" Don Stewart, a
spokesman for Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, said on
Republicans have argued Obamacare is a costly and unworkable
extension of government control and have vowed to overturn it.
Even while traveling in Italy on Thursday, Obama could not escape
controversy about the program. After he visited Pope Francis, the
Vatican issued a statement expressing concern about the law's
requirement that employers cover the cost of contraception in
From Italy, Obama spoke on a conference call with several thousand
people who are helping people enroll in the plans, the White House
"The president encouraged the navigators and volunteers to redouble
their efforts over the next four days and leave no stone unturned,"
the White House said in a statement.
[to top of second column]
"STARTING TO SEE YOUNGER CONSUMERS"
The administration has been aggressively courting the 18- to
34-year-old age group in the waning days of enrollment, a group they
have argued would be the last to sign up, but whose participation is
vital to keep future insurance costs down.
Younger consumers tend to be healthier and cheaper to insure,
compensating for the higher costs associated with older and sicker
Data as of February showed only a quarter of enrollees were aged
18 to 34, short of the goal of 38 percent that administration
officials set out before enrollment began last October.
No official updates have since been provided, but there have been
signs that targeted marketing was starting to pay off.
"We are starting to see younger consumers at a higher rate here
towards the end of March," said Kurt Kossen, vice president of
retail marketing at Health Care Service Corp, a holding company for
Blue Cross Blue Shield in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma
Kossen said his company has seen an increase in enrollment over the
past two weeks, with more calls to sales centers and online
On HealthCare.gov, the website used to sign up for insurance in 36
states, traffic has been heavy.
The White House said the site had more than 1.5 million visits on
Wednesday, while call centers received more than 430,000 calls, the
White House said.
Monday and Tuesday also saw more than 1 million visits to the
website and more than 350,000 calls to call centers, according to
posts on Twitter by HealthCare.gov.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told
Congress earlier this month that the administration would not extend
the March 31 enrollment deadline.
The law requires most Americans to be enrolled in insurance by that
date, or pay a penalty.
But this week, the agency overseeing HealthCare.gov said there will
be a grace period in the deadline for people who say they
experienced technical difficulties on the website or long wait times
at federal call centers.
(Additional reporting by Caroline Humer in New York;
Sandra Maler; and Peter Galloway)
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