Obama: 7.1M enrolled in O-Care

 

More than 7 million people enrolled in ObamaCare during the first open enrollment period, President Obama announced Tuesday in the Rose Garden.

"Despite several lost weeks out of the gate because of problems with the website, 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance through these marketplaces," the president said.

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The 7.1 million figure was more than the 7.041 million announced by press secretary Jay Carney just hours earlier.  

The administration is allowing consumers who were unable to complete their applications to continue the process beyond Monday. Moreover, the federal government is still collecting data from states who run their own states.

Obama heralded the achievement as "a big step forward."

"Under this law, the share of Americans with insurance is up and the growth of heathcare costs is down," Obama said.

The mood was noticeably different from four and a half months ago, when Obama also addressed the nation from the Rose Garden about his signature law.

In those remarks, Obama said there was no one "more frustrated than I am" with implementation of the law, admitting there was no "sugar-coating" the botched implementation.

But on Tuesday the president was clearly buoyed by the enrollment figures and challenged Republicans to "explain why we should go back to the days when seniors paid more for their prescriptions, or women had to pay more than men."

"I don't get it," Obama says. "Why are folks working so hard for people not to have health insurance? Why are they so mad about folks having health insurance?"

"There are still no death panels. Armageddon has not arrived. Instead this law is helping millions of Americans."

Obama warned that "history is not kind" to those who stood in the way of American progress.

"As messy as it's been sometimes, as contentious as it's been sometimes, it is progress," Obama said.

Still, it's not clear how many people have paid their first premium under the healthcare exchanges. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was on hand at the Rose Garden, said Monday that insurance industry officials predicted said 80 to 90 percent of enrollees had done so.

Obama was first informed that the administration had reached more than 7 million enrollees during a morning briefing with staff members who had worked triage on the ObamaCare website.

Hitting 7 million enrollments is a major symbolic achievement for the White House in an election year when Republicans have a good chance of taking the Senate.

Democrats hope the high enrollment number will create a comeback narrative that candidates can use to fend off GOP healthcare attacks.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the figure “heartwarming for those of us who worked so hard” to ensure that the controversial legislation passed through Congress.

She dismissed the critics of the laws and early “bumps in the road” with the rollout of the ObamaCare website as “turbulence.”

“The number speaks to a healthy America,” Pelosi said. “That's what we're happy for today.”

Pelosi refused to speculate about the political implications of hitting the 7 million target, an initial projection from the Congressional Budget Office that had been downgraded after the early glitches with the ObamaCare website.

“We're not running on health care, but we're not running away from it,” Pelosi said.

Carney said those who voted for the legislation should be "proud of" their votes.

And he took a shot at Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who on Monday said the law should be repealed.

"Amazingly, just this week the speaker recommitted Republicans to their strategy of repealing the law," Carney said. "I hope you'll ask the speaker this: How will that effort to repeal the law ensure that Americans have access to the same quality health care that members of Congress have? I'd love to hear the answer."

Republican voices were mostly quiet Tuesday morning in anticipation of the announcement. The Tea Party Patriots released a statement calling it “difficult” to accept any enrollment reports from the administration.

“The repeated failures of the program coupled with the Democrat’s fear of being held responsible for this mess in an election year causes serious concern for the report’s validity,” said Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the group.

The president acknowledged that there would still "be days that the website stumbles" — and scolded the media that technical glitches were "not news" — but argued that ultimately "this law is doing what it's supposed to do."

"It's working," Obama said. "It's helping people from coast to coast."

And the president flatly declared that "the debate over repealing this law is over."

"The Affordable Care Act is here to stay," Obama said.

Boehner did not appear swayed by that argument, with a spokesman for the top Republican lawmaker saying after the president's remarks that the nation still needed to "replace this fundamentally-flawed law with patient-centered solutions that will actually lower health care costs and help create jobs.”

“Despite the White House ‘victory lap,’ this law continues to harm the American people," said Boehner aide Michael Steele. "Every promise the President made has been broken: health care costs are rising, not falling. Americans are losing the doctors and plans that they like — especially seniors suffering under President Obama’s Medicare cuts. Small businesses are afraid to hire new workers, hobbling our economic growth."

Allies of the administration on Monday night were celebrating the high enrollment.

“If you build it, they will come … I have wanted to say that for the last 5 months and now I can as ACA enrollment hits 7 million!” tweeted Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress.

“ACA working is truly the nightmare for GOP repealers,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee staffer Jesse Ferguson, adding a “#7million” hashtag to his post.

Democratic National Committee Communications Director Mo Elleithee tweeted, "Seven 'BFD' Million,' in a callback to Vice President Biden's famous open-mic curse the day the healthcare bill was signed.

The Congressional Budget Office had projected that 7 million people would enroll in the program before the botched rollout, and subsequently revised down its estimate to 6 million because of the rocky start.

In an interview with CBS News taped last week but airing Monday, Obama said the administration was “going to be reasonably close to that original projection.”

Carney on Monday predicted that final enrollment numbers would be “substantially larger” than the 6 million announced by the president last week.

The Department of Health and Human Services said there had been more than 3 million visits to HealthCare.Gov on Monday and more than 1 million calls to the toll-free hotline as of 8 p.m.

That's in addition to more than 2 million website visits and more than 380,000 phone calls over the weekend. A White House official on Sunday said there had been more calls over the past week than in the entire month of February.

Still, the website twice on Monday experienced technical problems that prevented new users temporarily from creating accounts.

And, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Monday night, the website was being taken offline for “a few hours” at midnight Eastern time.

According to an official, the downtime was “to allow the tech team to make the changes necessary to reflect the actions consumers can take now that the annual open enrollment window has ended.”

“We expect the site and all services to resume early Tuesday morning,” the official said.

As of Tuesday morning, the homepage indicated that the open enrollment period is now over, although users who have begun their applications will be allowed to complete them.

The website also directed those who may qualify for Medicaid or government-provided child insurance to those year-round enrollment services.

— Updated at 4:55 p.m. on Tuesday.