Truth about Obamacare? Mandate wasn't needed: Dean

Healthcare.gov in 'reasonably good shape': Dean

The unpopular individual mandate that's part of Obamacare was unnecessary to the program's overall success, and it's going to hurt Democrats in next year's midterm elections, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told CNBC on Monday.

"Insurance companies like it because it does bring young, healthy people who aren't likely to get sick into the system," the former Vermont governor said in a "Squawk Box" interview. "But our experience here—although it's with young people under 18, not with everybody—is that the individual mandate was not that necessary."

He added, "The actuarial data does not lead to the conclusion that you're going to have huge cost overruns" without it.

Dean did acknowledge that Obamacare will hurt Democrats at the polls in November, because "people don't like to be told what to do by the government no matter what party they're in."

Republican strategist Joe Watkins, who served as an aide to George H.W. Bush, agreed with his Democratic counterpart: "It's the federal mandate. Americans are not happy."

"If we have our way in 2014, the Affordable Care Act is going to end up being the gift that just keeps on giving," he said—adding that as a result, Republicans could pick up four to six Senate seats and as many as 50 House seats.

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On the troubled rollout of Obamacare, Dean said, "We're not out of the woods." But he predicted that most of the major problems will be ironed out by the end of open enrollment in March.

The Obama administration announced Sunday that more than 1.1 million people had enrolled in a qualified health plan by way of the federal HealthCare.gov exchange ahead of the twice-extended Dec. 24 deadline for securing coverage to begin on the first of the new year.

More than 975,000 of those sign-ups were executed this month alone. Together with information CNBC has received from the state-operated marketplaces, total Obamacare enrollments stand at around 1.7 million.

"Now we've got to deal with the back-end insurance problem," Dean explained. "That's the confusion that happens when people switch insurance programs—all of which will, of course, get blamed on Obamacare, which is not accurate."

To help ease the burden on people whose insurance plans were canceled because they didn't meet the tougher Obamacare standards, major insurers have agreed to delay the deadline for paying premiums until Jan. 10.

But Watkins said that he expects dissatisfaction to grow among Americans who had been promised that they'd be able to keep their policies. "Politically, it's going to be tough sledding for Democrats."

By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC.