WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Tuesday celebrated a better-than-expected 7.1 million sign-ups for health coverage that he said should end the debate over whether his signature legislation should be repealed.
Obama announced the 7 million threshold that once was seen as unattainable, even as the number still could climb. People who started applying but couldn’t finish before the Monday midnight deadline can have extra time, as do potential enrollees whose special circumstances kept them from signing up in time.
“The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” Obama declared in a feisty Rose Garden speech the day after the deadline for Americans to enroll.
The 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act has been the No. 1 legislative achievement of Obama’s presidency.
Eager to deny Obama any kind of legislative legacy, Republicans have bitterly opposed the law which they say swells big government and represents an unprecedented federal intrusion in the U.S. economy.
It remains unclear how well the Affordable Care Act will work and whether its implementation will see Americans change their views on a law that remains unpopular and widely misunderstood.
About 50 million Americans lacked health care coverage as the law began taking effect, and supporters hope it will significantly reduce the ranks of the uninsured.
But the administration has not said how many of those who already have signed up closed the deal by paying their first month’s premiums. Also unknown is how many were previously uninsured — the real test of Obama’s health care overhaul. In addition, the law expands coverage for low-income people through Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor, but only about half the states have agreed to implement that option.
The months ahead will show whether the Affordable Care Act will meet its mandate to provide affordable health care coverage or whether high deductibles, paperwork snags and narrow physician networks make it a bust.
After winning control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections, Republicans have voted more than 50 times to revoke or seriously undermine the program, widely known as “Obamacare.” Those bills have never made it to the floor in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The law is at the center of competitive congressional races across the country. Michael Steel, spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner, argued that the law was harming the American people.
“Every promise the president made has been broken: Health care costs are rising, not falling,” Steel said. “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. That’s why we must replace this fundamentally-flawed law with patient-centered solutions that will actually lower health care costs and help create jobs.”
Obama lashed out at critics who still argue that the law should be repealed.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “Why are folks working so hard for people not to have health insurance? Why are they so mad about the idea of folks having health insurance? Many of the tall tales that have been told about this law have been debunked. There are still no death panels. Armageddon has not arrived. Instead, this law is helping millions of Americans, and in the coming years it will help millions more.”
The number of people signed up for health insurance could still climb. People who started applying but couldn’t finish before the deadline can have extra time, as do potential enrollees whose special circumstances kept them from meeting the deadline.
Obama plans to present updated numbers during a Rose Garden appearance later Tuesday.