Obama says 7.1 million sign up for health care

Posted at 6:08 PM, Apr 01, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-01 18:09:57-04

WASHINGTON (CNN) — After a surge on the last day of open enrollment, Obamacare met the original White House target of 7 million sign-ups, President Barack Obama said Tuesday at what amounts to a victory for his administration.

In fact, he said at a White House ceremony the number of people who picked a plan on federal and state exchanges was slightly over the threshold at 7.1 million.

On Monday, the final day for Americans to sign up on the federal exchanges, more than 4.8 million visits were made to and 2 million calls were made to the call center, officials said.

Obama said the health care law has “made our health care system a lot better” by allowing millions of Americans to access insurance who previously didn’t have it.

He said it’s good for the economy and good for the country, “regardless of your politics.”

The administration has not released details about the numbers, including how many people have submitted payment, ensuring their coverage.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday federal agencies were working to compile the figures.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office originally projected the 7 million target, which was embraced by administration officials. Obama first learned his health care exchanges had met the target on Tuesday morning during a briefing with his chief of staff.

Monday’s crush of enrollees came despite a software bug early in the day that proved to be a fleeting reminder of the technical woes that plagued the system when it was rolled out.

“System isn’t available at the moment,” a message on said. “We’re currently performing maintenance.” But by 8 a.m. in Washington, the glitch had been resolved.

An official told CNN on Tuesday that the surge included a good percentage of young adults — a demographic whose inclusion among enrollees is considered key to controlling costs. The official, briefing reporters Tuesday on the condition of anonymity, said insurance companies were confident the percentage of young people was sufficient for the insurance marketplaces to function properly.

Consumers who attempted to sign up on Monday but who experienced technical problems in doing so will be given until April 15 to complete their enrollment, the official said.

States running their own exchanges also cited a surge of interest Tuesday. California’s exchange ran sluggishly on Monday, but consumers there were given a reprieve, too. Those who didn’t finish the process were given until April 15 to do so, Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, said Monday.

But picking a plan isn’t the final step to full enrollment — forking over the money to pay for it is. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told an Oklahoma TV station on Monday that insurers were reporting that 80% to 90% had paid.

Obamacare’s primary goal is to reduce the ranks of the 45 million uninsured. It remains to be seen how that figure will be affected, though anecdotal evidence suggests many have enrolled. Until now, many Americans with pre-existing conditions had to pay sky-high prices for insurance, if they could get any at all. Often, insurers branded them “uninsurable.”

The Affordable Care Act, which Congress passed in 2010 without GOP support, is considered Obama’s signature domestic initiative.

The administration pulled out all the stops in the final weeks of the enrollment period — an effort one official equated to a “get out the vote” campaign before an election.

Administration officials took to the radio airwaves by participating in 400 interviews, enlisted celebrities and athletes to promote the law, and engaged people on social media. And Obama’s interview on the online comedycast “Between Two Ferns” resulted in the so-called Zach Galifianakis effect, resulting in 33 million views of his mock interview with the comedian.

The interview with Galifianakis, along with a promotional push from Miami Heat forward LeBron James, were cited by administration officials as two of the most effective components in the push to enroll young Americans on the health care exchanges. The overall effort, the White House said, surpassed their expectations in terms of last-minute sign-ups.

While the administration is touting the first enrollment period as a success, Americans are divided over how they view the law. Last month, 46% said they viewed the law unfavorably (down 4 points since January), and 38% said they viewed it favorably (up 4 points since January), according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

Those who held unfavorable views cited concerns about costs (23%), opposition to the individual mandate (17%), and concerns about government intrusion (10%).

Those with favorable views cited expanded access to health care and health insurance (61%), followed by the perception that it will control health care costs and make it more affordable (10%) and that it will be good for the country (7%).

The telephone survey of 1,504 adults was conducted March 11-17 and had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 points.

Professor Uwe Reinhardt, a health economist at Princeton University, said he was not surprised at the last-minute rush to sign up. “I think the prayer of the conservatives that this would collapse just didn’t get answered,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “It fills a need.”

He predicted conservatives would chip away at whatever the number proves to be. “It’s all just, some people hate Obama and anything he does.”

Administration officials on Tuesday said the success in reaching the 7 million figure would bolster Democrats’ case in coming midterm elections, since most Republicans in Congress favor repealing the law altogether. Now that millions of Americans have enrolled, the officials reasoned, repealing the law has become untenable.