A day after the open enrollment period ended to sign-up for health care insurance, President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at a ceremony held in the White House Rose Garden that the Affordable Care Act reached its goal of 7 million sign-ups until the deadline on March 31, 2014. Despite early problems with the online insurance Marketplace Healthcare.gov after the law's October 2013 disastrous rollout, the health law reached the Congressional Budget Office's initial goal of 7 million enrollees.
President Obama is hailing the numbers as success for the embattled law that is also the signature legislation of his presidency thus far. Obama used his remarks delivered in the Rose Garden to gloat over the Republicans, as much as possible. Obama was joined by Vice President Joe Biden at the announcement.
Congressional Republicans have been thoroughly opposed to health care law from the start, with the Republican House of Representatives voting to repeal it over 50 times since the law passed. Even today in the 2015 fiscal year budget Chairman of the House Budget committee Paul Ryan released included repealing Obama care.
President Obama announced the milestone was reached "despite several lost weeks out of the gate because of problems with the website." Obama pointed out that "Even more folks want to sign up. 7.1 million - that's on top of the more than 3 million young adults who gained insurance under this law by staying on their family plan."
As for the mentioning the Republicans, the numbers allowed the president the chance to rub it in that they were wrong in their assessment of his law. In full campaign mode, Obama asked; "I don't get it. Why are folks working so hard for people not to have health insurance? Why are they so mad about the idea of people having health insurance?"
President Obama praised and listed the benefits of the law; "we've taken a big step forward. And just as importantly, this law is bringing greater security to Americans who already have coverage." Obama explained how it is benefitting the middle class, linking the health care law to his economic opportunity program, explaining; "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 that's good for our fiscal future."
Although there have been advances, the president acknowledged there is still problems with America's health care system, admitting; "that doesn't mean that all the problems in health care have been solved forever." Obama blamed specific state governors, pointed out that there are still Americans that are uninsured, but promised; "And we'll work to get more Americans covered with each passing year." Obama also stated that they still have to find a solution about needing changes in coverage when life events happen that alter a person's situation.
Ultimately though, Obama said "the Affordable Care Act hasn't completely fixed our long-broken health care system, but this law has made our health care system a lot better -- a lot better." Continuing he expressed; "All told, because of this law millions of our citizens know the economic security of health insurance who didn't just a few years ago, and that's something to be proud of, regardless of your politics or your feelings about me."
The president warned the Republicans that their opposition could cost them in the midterm elections, declaring; "In the end, history is not kind to those who would deny Americans their basic economic security. Nobody remembers well those who stand in the way of America's progress or our people, and that's what the Affordable Care Act represents. As messy as it's been sometimes, as contentious as it has been sometimes, it is progress."
With the law a success, the White House according to ABC News is "shift[ing] to making the case against repeal." Success does not mean however, that the Republicans intend to cave in; they are still looking to repeal the law. In fact they intend to do the opposite and "intensify" their campaign against the law leading up to the midterm elections.
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH stated that "House Republicans will continue to work to repeal this law and protect families and small businesses from its harmful consequences. We will also continue our work to replace this fundamentally-flawed law with patient-centered solutions focused on lowering health care costs and protecting jobs."
While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY commenting on the milestone number of enrollees questioned that "We don't know, of course, exactly what they have signed up for, we don't know how many have paid. What we do know is that all across the country our constituents are having an unpleasant interaction with Obamacare. Whether they can sign up for a policy or not, what they are discovering is higher premiums [and] higher deductibles. Many of them are losing their jobs and so it is really a catastrophe for the country both for the healthcare providers and the consumers."
The 7.1 million enrollees include Americans that signed-up on the problem ridden federal insurance exchange and 23 state marketplaces. The exact number at the moment is 7,041,000, but will rise, when the last minute sign-ups and those who experienced "technical difficulties" complete their enrollment through to mid-April.
The administration does not yet know the demographic breakdown of those who enrolled either, whether they are the youth, the elderly and sick or those not previously insured. White House press secretary Jay Carney explained at the daily press briefing; "We have none of that breakdown data at this point. We already know that that breakdown is sufficient to ensure that the marketplaces will effectively function, that issuers will feel comfortable with the demographics."
Back in October and November 2013 it seemed highly unlikely the law would ever reach it sign-up goal of 7 million, with only 106,000 signing up the first month in October 2013. The initial launch of the federal Marketplace HealthCare.gov on Oct. 1, 2013 was plagued with technical problems experienced including the error messages, delay times, inability to login or enroll and messed up applications sent to insurance companies and the cancellation notices millions Americans received from their insurance providers has made the law very unpopular among the American public.
President Obama and the administration claimed victory on HealthCare.gov with the Marketplace's repairs and re-launch on Sunday Dec. 1, 2013 after their Nov. 30 deadline passed. Although some problems still persisted in with the marketplace the sign-up period's last four months, enrollments started increasing with 1 million visitors alone on Dec. 2 the first full day of the re-launch.
In his Rose Garden remarks Obama continued to recognize the problems experienced with the Marketplace as he has done throughout the 6-month sign-up period, saying; "Like every major piece of legislation -- from Social Security to Medicare -- the law is not perfect." Continuing the president elaborated; "We've had to make adjustments along the way, and the implementation -- especially with the website -- has had its share of problems.... and yes, at times this reform has been contentious and confusing, and obviously it's had its share of critics. That's what change looks like in a democracy. Change is hard. Fixing what's broken is hard.... but this law is doing what it's supposed to do. It's working."
Obama admitted that changes will need to be made to the law and that there will still be technical difficulties; "In the months, years ahead, I guarantee you there will be additional challenges to implementing this law. There will be days when the website stumbles -- I guarantee it. It's going to happen. It won't be news."
Even with the improvements and increases each month with enrollment it remained doubtful up until last week that the White House would reach its goal since there was only 6 million enrollees at that point. The deadline looming created a rush of procrastinators to sign-up for the insurance. In total there were 2.9 million visitors to the site this past weekend, surging to 4.8 million visits on Monday, March 31, deadline day, with 200,000 sign-ups. The extreme traffic caused the site to falter twice on Monday, showing the Marketplace website is still vulnerable.
The White House has been overdrive with their campaign to sell and encourage Americans to sign-up for insurance. CNN recounted "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." Additionally, the marketing towards getting millennials aged 18-29 to sign-up took a fever pitch when Obama was interviewed by actor and comedian Zach Galifianakis for his "Between Two Ferns" parody how on the website FunnnyorDie.com which since its release online on March 11, received 33 million views.
The president offered the Republicans an olive branch and a role in any of the changes and improvements to the law; "There will be parts of the law that will still need to be improved. And if we can stop refighting old political battles that keep us gridlocked, then we could actually make the law work even better for everybody. And we're excited about the prospect of doing that. We are game to do it."
President Obama stated that reaching this goal shows the law is a success, that is the final word, and the Republicans have to stop trying to repeal, because as Obama stated; "I will always work with anyone who will make this law even better. But the debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay."
The president concluded, urging bipartisanship to create opportunity; "But today should remind us that the goal we set for ourselves -- that no American should go without the health care that they need… We are on our way. And if all of us have the courage and the wisdom to keep working not against one another, not to scare each other, but for one another -- then we won't just make progress on health care. We'll make progress on all the other work that remains to create new opportunity for everybody who works for it, and to make sure that this country that we love lives up to its highest ideals."
The president's health care law success would secure his legacy since it his landmark legislation of his presidency thus far. Americans are warming up to the law in a new ABC News-Washington Post poll 49 percent support the law more than those who oppose it, which now sits at 48 percent. The numbers are great improvement from November 2013 in the midst of the disastrous rollout, when it was 57 percent opposing the law with only 40 percent supporting it.
President Barack Obama's Remarks on the Affordable Care Act, April, 1, 2014
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.