Updated Obamacare Enrollment Exceeds Estimates

President Obama said enrollment under the Affordable Care Act reached 8 million after the deadline was extended by 2 weeks. The figure represents a turnaround from the disastrous debut of the website.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

After that agreement was reached yesterday, President Obama sounded pretty skeptical that it would actually ease tensions in Ukraine.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days. But I don't think, given past performance, that we can count on that.

MCEVERS: Ukraine was one of the big topics in the president's White House press conference yesterday afternoon. He also made some news, and faced questions on the Affordable Care Act. NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith was there.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The press conference wasn't announced in advance, though the presidential seal on the podium was among many solid clues Obama would make an appearance in the briefing room. His purpose was to announce new, even bigger numbers of people who signed up for insurance on government exchanges through the Affordable Care Act.

OBAMA: We now know that the number of Americans who've signed up for private insurance in the marketplaces has grown to 8 million people - 8 million people. Thirty-five percent of people who enrolled through the federal marketplace are under the age of 35.

KEITH: That 8 million signups figure greatly exceeds just about every estimate for what to expect in the first year. Add to that 3 million young people who were able to stay on their parents' plans, and another 3 million low-income Americans who enrolled in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program; and, President Obama said, now you're talking about real numbers.

OBAMA: We've got a sizable part of the U.S. population now that are in the first - for the first time, in many cases, in a position to enjoy the financial security of health insurance. And I'm meeting them as I'm on the road.

KEITH: House Republicans were quick to respond. In a statement, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, asked a series of questions. How many of those enrollees have paid their first month's premium? How many paid their first month's premium but not their second or third? How many were previously uninsured? How many were forced off their previous coverage they had and liked? President Obama dismissed these concerns.

OBAMA: Their party is going through, you know, the stages of grief, right? Anger and denial and all that stuff. And we're not at acceptance yet. But at some point, my assumption is, is that there will be an interest to figure out, how do we make this work in the best way possible?

KEITH: Republicans say they want to both repeal and replace the health care law, though they haven't yet coalesced behind a replacement plan. Then, just as it seemed Obama was ready to move onto the next question, he paused and went back to something he said frustrates him: the 24 states - mostly red states - that haven't expanded Medicaid to cover more low-income adults, as called for in the Affordable Care Act.

OBAMA: You got 5 million people who could be having health insurance right now at no cost to these states - zero cost to these states. Other than ideological reasons, they have chosen not to provide health insurance for their citizens. That's wrong. It should stop. Those folks should be able to get health insurance like everybody else.

KEITH: Some states are still deciding what to do. In Virginia, the Democratic governor is now in a standoff with the legislature over Medicaid expansion. And while expanding coverage doesn't cost states anything today, in 2016, the law calls for states to kick in 10 percent of the cost. The health care law is already a campaign issue in the upcoming congressional elections, but President Obama said it shouldn't necessarily hurt Democrats.

OBAMA: I don't think we should apologize for it. I don't think we should be defensive about it. I think there's a strong, good, right story to tell.

KEITH: Republicans are betting he's wrong. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House.

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