President Obama Takes Victory Lap After Health Care Sign-Ups Top 7 Million

The president heralded the number of sign-ups under Obamacare.

April 1, 2014, 2:59 PM

— -- President Obama today heralded more than 7 million sign-ups for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act -- bringing to a close a politically bruising six-month enrollment period and a first major test for his signature legislative achievement.

The 7.1 million who have signed up, the president said in a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, "despite several lost weeks out of the gate because of problems with the website."

“Even more folks want to sign up,” he added. “7.1 million – that’s on top of the more than 3 million young adults who gained insurance under this law by staying on their family plan.”

The latest tally represents the total number of Americans who selected health plans through state and federal marketplaces created by the law since Oct. 1.

The number is expected to grow as last-minute applications filed through 23 state-run insurance exchanges are counted and people continue to complete applications in the federal exchange into April.

Obama noted that many of the “tall tales” opponents have told about the law have been “debunked.”

“There are still no death panels,” Obama said to laughter. “Armageddon has not arrived.”

Obama added, “The debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay."

The 7-million figure has become a symbolic and political milestone since the administration embraced it as a “goal” in mid-2013 based on a projection by the Congressional Budget Office. Reaching that mark is a noteworthy feat after the significant, high-profile technical glitches and website outages that plagued the enrollment process on from beginning to end.

In his statement, Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, declared: "We've taken a big step forward."

Still, the number says little about the extent to which the health law has expanded coverage to the uninsured or will stabilize premiums. The administration does not yet know how many previously uninsured Americans gained coverage under the law. They also do not know the ratio of young and healthy enrollees to old and sick -- a key data point insurers watch to set their premiums.

"We have none of that breakdown data at this point,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said today. However, “we already know that that breakdown is sufficient to ensure that the marketplaces will effectively function, that issuers will feel comfortable with the demographics,” he said.

Officials also cannot say how many of the 7 million applicants have paid their premiums to finalize enrollment.

Nevertheless, Obama said, “This law has made our health care system a lot better -- a lot better.”

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to blast the law.

"All across the country our constituents are having an unpleasant interaction with Obamacare,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.. “Whether they can sign up for a policy or not, they are discovering, of course, higher premiums, a higher deductible.”

Public support for the Affordable Care Act narrowly notched a new high in the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll, while criticism of Barack Obama’s handling of the law’s rollout -- although still substantial -- has eased from its peak last fall.

Americans split on Obamacare: 49 percent support it while 48 percent oppose it. But last November just 40 percent supported it while 57 percent opposed it.

"I think I'm like a lot of people who end up waiting till the last minute,” Caroline Mays, 30, of Washington, DC, told ABC News as she signed up for an Obamacare insurance policy late Monday. “But now I'm all squared away. I have health insurance. I've been working independently so I haven't had coverage. So this is a big relief to me, for sure.”

Senior administration officials credit grassroots organizing and a social media blitz, drawing on lessons from the 2012 election campaign, with fueling a last-minute surge in sign-ups.

They say groups have held more than 5,000 events over the past 6 weeks, including appearances of Obama cabinet officials at 45 of those. They say their social media reach touched 350 million twitter followers and 33 million online video views.

Privately, the White House points to what they call two pivotal moments in their campaign: A promotional video by NBA star LeBron James, who they say spurred other celebrities to help spread the word; and, the president’s “two ferns” interview with comedian Zach Galifianakis, which generated significant buzz.

“I have a lot of friends who've been uninsured and have kind of been winging it,” said Sarah Leonard, who enrolled for a new health policy on Monday. “But I know that that's not very responsible, especially at 26, you have to get responsible. I was going to try to wing it but then there's also the tax penalty and I really didn’t want that either.”

Most Americans were required to obtain health insurance by March 31 or face a fine of the greater of $95 or 1 percent of household income above $10,150 for an individual. Those subject to the fine will pay it on their 2014 federal income taxes.

As for the politics of the Affordable Care Act, administration officials say the focus now shifts to making the case against repeal. They note that no Democrat that originally voted for the ACA has flipped his or her vote – a sign, they say, that if implemention of the law is continued effectively, then the intensity of debate will wane.

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are vowing to intensify the drumbeat for repealing the law ahead of the November midterm elections.

"House Republicans will continue to work to repeal this law and protect families and small businesses from its harmful consequences,” said House Speaker John Boehner. “We will also continue our work to replace this fundamentally-flawed law with patient-centered solutions focused on lowering health care costs and protecting jobs.”

ABC's Shushannah Walshe contributed reporting.

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