WASHINGTON – President Obama took to the White House Rose Garden on Tuesday to mark the administration’s success in signing up more than 7 million people for private insurance under his health care law and to confront his political opponents who continue to press for the law’s repeal.
“All told because of this law, millions of our fellow citizens know the economic security of health insurance who didn’t just a few years ago,” Obama said. “That’s something to be proud of, regardless of your politics, or your feelings about me, or your feelings about this law. That’s something that’s good for our economy, and it’s good for our country. There’s no good reason to go back.”
Earlier Tuesday, the White House announced that it had reached its initial enrollment goal, a significant achievement given the troubled debut of HealthCare.gov last fall, federal officials said.
Obama acknowledged problems with the law’s implementation but pushed back at the notion that the law was fundamentally broken. “No, the Affordable Care Act has not totally fixed our long-broken health care system, but it has made the system a lot better,” he said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney used the announcement to chide critics who doubted that the goal would be met, including Speaker John Boehner, whose House Republican majority has repeatedly tried to repeal the health care law.
“I hope you’ll ask the speaker this: How will that effort to repeal the law ensure that Americans have access to the same quality health care that members of Congress have?” Carney said.
Boehner’s spokesman took issue with the president. “Despite the White House ‘victory lap,’ this law continues to harm the American people,” Michael Steel said in a statement.
In its push to get people to sign up for coverage before the open enrollment period ended Monday night, the administration used social media, political campaign tactics and a small army of volunteers who assisted people in shopping malls, clinics, churches and social service agencies around the country.
People who go without health insurance in coming months may be subject to tax penalties. But the administration left the door open for people who had created online accounts or started applications for insurance and were unable to complete them because of the technical problems.
These consumers will have a limited but unspecified amount of extra time to finish their applications. People can request a “special enrollment period” by calling the federal marketplace at 800-318-2596.
Callers on Tuesday were greeted with a message saying: “Open enrollment for 2014 has ended, but don’t worry. You may still be able to get covered for this year. We know, despite your best efforts, that sometimes there were delays caused by heavy traffic to HealthCare.gov or call centers or special situations that may have prevented you from finishing on time.
“If you’ve already called and left your telephone number for us to call you back, please know we are holding your place in line and will contact you soon to help you finish enrolling. You will still get coverage for 2014.”
Two states running their own exchanges, California and New York, appear to account for nearly one-fifth of the people who have signed up.
Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report.