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Obamacare Enrollment Surges Past 7 Million: “This Law Is Here To Stay”

 

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In a press conference this afternoon, President Obama announced the news we’ve all been waiting for: Affordable Care Act enrollment numbers exceeded expectations, breaking the 7 million mark last night.

“Last night, the first open enrollment period under this law came to an end,” President Barack Obama said. “And despite several lost weeks out of the gate, several lost because of problems with the website, 7.1 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans through these marketplaces. 7.1.”

“In these first six months, we’ve taken a big step forward, and just as importantly, this law is bringing greater security to Americans who already have coverage,” he added. Implementing health care reform, he said, “is part of what change looks like in a democracy. This law is doing what it’s supposed to be doing.”

The president also hit back at critics of the law, saying the problems they predicted haven’t come to pass.

“Many of these tall tales about this have been debunked. There are still no death panels,” which got a peal of laughter from the audience.

“Armageddon has not arrived,” he said to a prolonged applause.

The release of the latest enrollment figure represents a high-water mark for the legislation, which stumbled out of the gate amid technical problems plaguing the insurance exchange website. The total of 7.1 million people is slightly higher than the Congressional Budget Office’s initial estimate that 7 million would sign up during the six-month open enrollment period.

And the news seems likely to only get better. According to White House officials, the number does not include individuals who enrolled on March 31 through state exchanges — a group that likely numbers tens of thousands of people, if not more. It also does not count those who attempted to purchase health coverage but encountered technical difficulties and could not finish the process by the enrollment deadline. The administration has established what is essentially an honor system for people to declare that they began their applications and were unable to finish them, so that number may ultimately be high as well.

“Today we can say definitively that at midnight last night, I think it’s fair to say we passed everyone’s expectations,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during Tuesday’s briefing.

The 7.1 million figure does not include the millions who have signed up for coverage through the law’s Medicaid expansion, which remains accessible after the end of open enrollment to those who qualify. While we don’t have any official numbers yet, several insiders have said that the total number will likely reach 15 million.

The president highlighted this during the press conference, saying that millions more people have been newly covered under ACA provisions that expanded Medicaid eligibility for some low-income people, and 3 million adults under age 26 were added to their parents’ plans under the law.

And despite claims from the laws’ opponents, the ACA has achieved tremendous success in decreasing the number of uninsured Americans.

Reports from earlier this week estimate that at least 9.5 million previously uninsured Americans — including the people who enrolled in the new exchanges, the people who are now eligible for Medicaid, and the young adults who are now on their parents’ plans — have gained coverage under Obamacare.

President Obama also highlighted the fact that the ACA now prevents insurers from charging higher rates for people with pre-existing conditions or setting life-time caps on coverage, or different rates for women then men. He noted that under the Affordable Care Act, a slew of health benefits, including mammograms, contraception and preventative care, are now covered at no additional out-of-pocket cost by law. Those provisions apply to all insurance plans, not just those purchased on HealthCare.gov and other government exchanges.

The ACA also introduces coverage to many of the nation’s most vulnerable populations and goes a long way towards addressing persistent health disparities.

The president chided Obamacare critics for spending so much time trying to make the law fail, saying that he doesn’t understand why it would upset anyone to see more Americans gain health care coverage.

“I don’t get it,” the president said. “Why are people working so hard for people not to have health insurance?” (That, my friends, is the million-dollar question. If your local representative, state senator, or governor is among these critics, I urge you to personally contact them to inquire about this very matter — and if you do, I would love to hear what they say!)

President Obama said he would pressure governors who have opposed the expansion of Medicaid benefits in their states to reverse that decision, which has left millions of people without coverage they would otherwise qualify for. When the Affordable Care Act first passed, the CBO projected that about 17 million additional low-income Americans would enroll in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). But, since the Supreme Court ruled the Medicaid expansion optional, over 20 GOP-controlled states have resisted expanding their public insurance programs, leading the CBO to revise that figure down to eight million. Studies show that Republican states are lagging in health care coverage for their residents.

In fact, the anti-Obamacare lawmakers who continue to resist expanding Medicaid are leaving an estimated five million of the poorest Americans without any access to affordable care whatsoever. These people fall into a so-called “coverage gap” — making too much money to qualify for their state’s Medicaid program without the expansion, but too little money to qualify for federal subsidies to purchase a plan on the exchanges.

The president also hit back at the well-funded anti-Obamacare campaign, pointing out (rightly so) that opponents of the law had spent unprecedented amounts of money and even resorted to scare tactics in an attempt to turn people against the ACA.

“We didn’t make a hard sell [to promote Obamacare]. We didn’t have billions of dollars in commercials like some critics had,” Obama said.

To a cheering crowd, President Obama also made it a point to say that the “tall tales about [the ACA] have been debunked.” (Oh they certainly have been — over and over and over and over again!).

The president’s primary message was one of optimism. Focusing on the impact of the law, President Obama emphasized how the ACA is helping the American people and improving the economic outlook for the nation.

“The bottom line is this, under this law, the share of Americans with insurance is up, and the growth of health-care costs is down, and that’s good for our middle class, and good for our fiscal future,” Obama said. “This law is helping millions of Americans, and in coming years it will help millions more.”

“The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” President Obama declared in a feisty tone, prompting an eruption of applause.

I suspect that many Americans (like myself) are at home tonight, joining in to applaud this monumental achievement.

 

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