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Obamacare hits enrollment goal with 7.1 million sign-ups at ‘finish line’

Last-minute surge credited for surprising turn-around

CNN News Wire | 4/3/2014, midnight

last-minute enrollment surge enabled the White House to meet its original sign-up target for the Affordable Care Act, a surprising victory for the Obama administration after a rocky rollout of the program that has become a political hot potato for Democrats and a rallying cry for Republicans.

President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that 7.1 million people had signed up on federal or state exchanges for coverage under the health care law often known as Obamacare.

The enrollment period began anemically in October with a faltering federal website and ended with a crush of people trying to beat Monday’s deadline to get coverage. Not everyone who has selected a health plan has paid for it yet, officials said.

Nevertheless, Obama claimed victory at a White House ceremony, saying the program approved by Congress in 2010—with no Republican support and vilified relentlessly by the GOP as government overreach—has been a force for good.

He said it wasn’t perfect, acknowledging the early difficulties in selecting a policy on HealthCare.gov, and he predicted more hurdles in carrying it out.

But the overall goal of starting to narrow the gap between those with health coverage and those without it has begun, and millions of Americans are embracing it, Obama said.

“That’s what the (law) is all about, making sure all of us and all our fellow citizens can count on the security of healthcare when we get sick,” he said, noting that the “law is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s working.”

The numbers

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office originally projected the 7 million enrollment target for the October through March period, which was adopted by the administration.

Expectations plummeted throughout the fall and into this year after the early website problems, which Obama called “several lost weeks.”

But signs of a pickup began in late January and continued into February and early March despite a fierce campaign by Republicans to demonize the law as unworkable.

Administration officials said an absolute crush of people pushed the program—Obama’s chief domestic accomplishment—over the finish line at the 11th hour. More than 4.8 million visits were made to HealthCare.gov on Monday alone.

Officials stressed that the 7.1 million figure represents only those who signed up for coverage. Those who came in late and encountered technical problems have until mid-April to complete the process. Private insurers are providing the coverage.

Health of Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told an Oklahoma TV station on Monday that insurers were reporting that 80 to 90 percent had paid so far.

The law also includes expanded Medicaid insurance for the poor in many states, but those participants are not part of the sign-up total.

The politics

Republicans, especially in the House, have waged a nonstop campaign to repeal or roll back the Affordable Care Act, saying it was rammed through Congress without their input and now is another illustration of big government at its worst.

They have made it a rallying cry of their fall campaign to expand their majority in the House and reclaim the Senate. It has energized the base, and the issue informs the commentary of potential GOP candidates for president as well.