President Obama Touts Health Law Enrollment Numbers
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Mocking his critics, President Barack Obama boasted Tuesday that 7.1 million people have signed up for his health care law, an unexpected comeback after a disastrous rollout sent his poll numbers plummeting and stirred fears among Democrats facing re-election this fall.
"The debate over repealing this law is over," he declared. It's "here to stay."
But the late enrollment surge may do little to change the political dynamics heading into the midterm elections, particularly for Democrats running in conservative states where the health law and the president himself remain deeply unpopular. Even Obama's advisers acknowledge that the public's views on the law are unlikely to shift significantly between now and November.
Still, with millions of people now receiving health benefits under the law, Democrats see an opportunity to undercut Republicans still pushing to repeal "Obamacare." And GOP lawmakers, wary of overplaying their political hand, are indeed grappling with whether to press forward with repeal or narrow their focus on replacing the law with different health measures.
In a preview of his party's midterm messaging, Obama declared Tuesday that while the health law isn't perfect, it is "here to stay."
"Why are folks working so hard for people to not have health insurance? Why are they so mad about the idea of people having health insurance?" he asked a group of administration officials and supportive members of Congress in the White House Rose Garden.
Underscoring his point, Obama quoted from letters he said he had received from people helped by the law. But Republicans responded in a new round of their own quotes from people complaining about rapidly rising rates.
"The band may be playing in the White House, but hearts aren't light for Americans struggling to afford Obamacare's higher costs," said a release from the Senate Republican Communications Center.
The president's remarks amounted to a victory lap for an administration that botched the start of the long-planned enrollment period for the insurance marketplaces at the center of the landmark law. The enrollment website was riddled with technical problems, and a flurry of private policy cancellations forced Obama to recant his pledge that Americans who liked their health insurance plans could keep them.
While the Congressional Budget Office had originally estimated that 7 million people would enroll in the health exchanges this year, the CBO lowered those expectations to 6 million due to the website woes. Even inside the White House, that first estimate looked out of reach until recently.
A late wave of sign-ups pushed nationwide enrollment to 7.1 million. Still, the administration hasn't said how many of those people have closed the deal by paying their first month's premiums. Also unclear is how many were previously uninsured - the real test of Obama's health care overhaul. The law also expanded coverage for low-income people through Medicaid, but only about half of the states have agreed to implement that option.