Republicans immediately pounced on the White House announcement Thursday that more than 6 million Americans have now signed up for private insurance plans under Obamacare after a surge in enrollments just before Monday's deadline.
"They seem to have forgotten that the bar had to be lowered to this level because they completely humiliated themselves for weeks," Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said in a statement. "But given how bad things are for the White House these days, I guess meeting the lowest of low expectations is now worthy of celebration."
"Canceling millions of policies, then bragging when they sign up for another one is a little odd, don’t you think?" Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, asked on Twitter.
And Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn told Newsmax in a statement: "Falling one million short of the proclaimed goal is nothing to celebrate — not to mention the White House still refuses to disclose the most important figure of who's paid.
"As the administration scrambles to conceal its incompetence, millions of Americans are now enduring cancelled health plans, higher premiums, and lost access to trusted doctors," Blackburn said.
The Obama administration lauded the milestone, saying that the last-minute surge helped exceed estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that 6 million people would sign up
in the program's first year. That estimate was down from previous expectations of 7 million because of enrollment problems from the beleaguered HealthCare.gov website.
Just 10 days ago, the administration said enrollment would be slightly more than 5 million people — and the White House enlisted celebrities and top government officials to try to persuade more uninsured people, particularly the young and healthy, to sign up.
The administration also has yet to announce how many consumers who signed up also paid their first month's Obamcare premium. Some independent estimates are that as many as 10 percent to 20 percent have not paid, which would bring the total enrollment to between 5 million and 6 million Americans.
The open enrollment period ends Monday, but the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services said this week that those who could not obtain coverage through HealthCare.gov by then would have until mid-April to do so.
Obamacare required Americans to obtain health coverage by then
or face fines from the Internal Revenue Service.
HealthCare.gov, which covers 36 states that do not have their own health exchanges, was marked from the start with technical issues and glitches — and it has been taken down many times for repairs and upgrades.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told Congress earlier this month that the March 31 deadline would not be extended.
"Pleased to share the great news — six million Americans have signed up for health insurance since Oct 1!" Sebelius said on Twitter, later adding, "six million isn’t just a number — this is about changing lives and healthcare for the better."
According to the White House, more than 1.5 million people visited HealthCare.gov on Wednesday, while call centers received more than 430,000 queries.
Monday and Tuesday also saw more than 1 million visits to the website and more than 350,000 calls to call centers, according to posts on Twitter by HealthCare.gov.
In addition, several million more Americans have gained coverage through Medicaid. That safety net program for low-income people was also expanded under Obamacare, but only about half of states have gone along.
"The Affordable Care Act is working," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declared in a statement.
"Republicans should abandon their reckless pursuit of new milestones in the number of votes to repeal or undermine this historic law," the California Democrat said.
The GOP-led House has voted more than 50 times to repeal, defund, or scale back Obamacare — and Republican David Jolly won a special election in Florida
earlier this month to fill a vacant seat in the House by campaigning against the healthcare law.
But while the national Obamacare number is important, the state-by-state enrollments are more critical, analysts say. Each state represents a separate insurance market — and to control premium increases, each market must have a balance between young and old enrollees, as well as healthy and sick ones.
"The national number only gets us so far," said Caroline Pearson, who is tracking Obamacare's rollout for the market analysis firm Avalere Health. "The fair measure of success is whether you have set up a market that is sustainable into the future.
"So you can then go out and find the rest of the uninsured people, and bring them in over the next couple of years," Pearson said.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama spoke on a conference call with several thousand people who are helping Americans enroll in the plans, the White House said. He spoke with them from Italy, where he had just visited Pope Francis.
"The president encouraged the navigators and volunteers to redouble their efforts over the next four days and leave no stone unturned," the White House said in a statement.
The Vatican issued a statement after the meeting
expressing concern about the Obamacare mandate that employers cover the cost of contraception in insurance plans.
That requirement is being challenged in the Supreme Court this week by two companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties. The high court heard arguments on whether the businesses can be exempted
from the mandate based on their religious beliefs.
Regardless of the latest tally, opinion polls continue to show that the Affordable Care Act remains unpopular. A national survey by the Pew Research Center
between Feb. 27 and March 16 found 53 percent disapproved of the law.
Obama's approval ratings also have been hit hard by the program's botched rollout.
And while Democrats see the milestone as ammunition to use against Republicans in this November's congressional elections, six senators — five Democrats and one independent — introduced changes to Obamacare on Thursday.
One would spare companies with fewer than 100 employees from a requirement to provide coverage to their workers. The current cutoff is 50.
The legislation was drafted by Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — along with Angus King, a Maine Independent.
Three senators — Landrieu, Begich, and Warner — are facing re-election this fall and are facing tough GOP challengers.
In remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell, the Kentucky Republican, scorned the group's proposal.
"Washington Democrats forced America’s Middle Class into this impossible situation," he said before the latest figures were released. "They basically blocked every reasonable attempt to reform this law — or to change it in any meaningful way.
"Yet now that Obamacare’s become politically difficult for them, they’re deflecting blame," he said. "But Americans won’t be fooled."
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
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