Debate Over Repealing Health Care Law Is Over, Obama Says

Six months after a disastrous rollout, more than 7 million people had signed up for health insurance on the federal and state exchanges when the deadline passed on Monday.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There were many predictions in recent months that not enough people would sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Turns out those predictions were wrong. And President Obama went to the Rose Garden yesterday to make sure everyone knew it.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Seven point one million Americans have now signed up for...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: ...private insurance plans through these marketplaces.

INSKEEP: It's a little bit more than the goal and that figure is likely to rise. Here's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: As the clock ticked down to midnight Monday, and the most talked about, fretted over open enrollment period came to an end, it became clear that something surprising had happened.

Dan Mendelson is the CEO of healthcare tracking firm Avalere Health.

DAN MENDELSON: The enrollment numbers really accelerated over the last month. And now you're looking at these numbers and they're actually at target.

(LAUGHTER)

MENDELSON: You know, it's just shocking to everybody.

KEITH: The seven million enrollee mark was set by analysts before the catastrophic roll out of Healthcare.gov. Barely anyone signed up in the first month and the expectations sank. So when President Obama walked out into the Rose Garden yesterday, he didn't hold back.

OBAMA: The debate over repealing this law is over.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.

(APPLAUSE)

KEITH: He ticked through the law's features, like three million young people able to stay on their parent's plans, the end of people being excluded because of pre-existing conditions;, the expansion of Medicaid. All told, he said millions more people have insurance. And Obama added, Armageddon has not arrived.

OBAMA: This law is doing what it's supposed to do. It's working. It's helping people from coast to coast. All of which makes the lengths to which critics have gone to scare people or undermine the law or try to repeal the law without offering any plausible alternative so hard to understand.

KEITH: In recent months, outside groups have spent millions of dollars running ads bashing the law in states with competitive House and Senate races. And on Capitol Hill, the GOP-controlled House has voted dozens of times to fully or partially repeal the law.

When the enrollment numbers were in, Georgia Republican Congressman Tom Price on a press conference call downplayed the significance.

REPRESENTATIVE TOM PRICE: Clearly we don't - still don't have any information on how many of those individuals have paid their premium. How many are actually signed up. How many of that seven million were - had insurance before and then were shoved onto the exchange.

KEITH: Those answers aren't in yet, along with many others. Industry analysts say typically 10 to 20 percent of people who sign up for insurance fail to pay at some point. Still, Mendelson, from Avalere Health, says millions more people will have health coverage this year than last.

MENDELSON: We should expect to see a steady reduction in the number of uninsured over the next five years. And already, really for the first time in a decade, you're starting to see a reversal in the number of people who are uninsured.

KEITH: Already, the rhetoric from opponents has shifted from repeal-period to repeal-and-replace, with more emphasis now on the replacement.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: You'll see a lot of different Republican alternative replacement plans. You'll also see, I believe as the year goes on, various reforms that we'll bringing to the floor on what we think are the components of a replacement.

KEITH: But substantial changes to the Affordable Care Act become more difficult with every new person insured as a result of the law. And the enrollment number is expected to keep rising, as people who started the process before the deadline finish signing up for insurance in the coming days and weeks.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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