President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that 7.1 million people had enrolled in insurance plans sold on government-run exchanges by the close of Monday's sign-up deadline, just beating the original estimate officials made last summer.
"This law is doing what it's supposed to do, it's working," Obama said in remarks outside the White House, where he was met with sustained applause and cheers after announcing the tally, which he repeated several times, as if to savor the number.
"This law is helping millions of Americans, and in coming years it will help millions more," he said.
Obama's comments came a day after the close of open enrollment and five months after a disastrous roll-out of the federal Obamacare exchange raised questions of whether sign-ups would reach even half of the original estimates. That flawed launched left even some of the president's fellow Democrats suggesting that key provisions of the Affordable Care Act would have to be scrapped or delayed significantly.
Obama said that in addition to the more than 7 million people on the exchanges, 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.
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 Obamacare, 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 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.
The president chided Obamacare critics for trying to repeal the law and using what he called scare tactics to turn people against the ACA. He 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.
"I don't get it," the president said. "Why are people working so hard for people not to have health insurance?"
He said, "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."
And, Obama said, to sustained applause, "The debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay."