Washington: More than 7 million people signed up for health insurance under a controversial American healthcare law before a key deadline, prompting a celebratory and unabashedly political speech by US President Barack Obama in the White House’s Rose Garden on Tuesday afternoon.
“The debate over repealing this law is over,” Mr Obama told a cheering crowd, with Vice-President Joe Biden beaming at his shoulder. “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay ... The bottom line is this: the share of Americans with insurance is up, and the growth in the cost of insurance is down. There’s no good reason to go back.”
People wanting insurance under what is known as Obamacare this year had to sign up by midnight on Monday, but after savage Republican opposition and the early collapse of the system’s website, few believed the White House would meet the early estimate of 7 million enrollees. In the end 7.1 million people signed up, a figure that could still increase as those who are part-way through the enrolment process finish their applications.
The milestone has significant practical and political implications. The more people who use the Affordable Care Act to obtain health coverage, the more economically viable the system becomes.
Equally, the larger the share of the population depending on the system – and presumably supporting it – the easier it becomes for Democrats to defend in the lead-up to the November mid-term elections.
And finally the more entrenched Obamacare becomes the harder it will be for a possible future Republican administration to repeal.
Mr Obama blamed some Republican governors for deliberately seeking to prevent the law from working by not supporting it in their own states, adding that, “History is not kind to those who would deny Americans their basic economic security.”
He said whatever people thought of him personally it was hard to understand critics of changes that extended health insurance to millions of Americans.
Polls suggest that the law remains contentious and divisive along party lines, though opposition has tempered. According to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 46 per cent said they viewed the law unfavourably (down 4 points since January), and 38 per cent said they viewed it favourably (up 4 points since January).
An ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Monday found 49 per cent in favour of the law and 48 per cent opposed, a huge shift from the 57 per cent that opposed it in the same poll in November last year.
Despite the White House’s declaration that the Obamacare debate was over, Republicans show no signs of giving up the fight against it.
“We don’t know of course, exactly what they have signed up for, we don’t know how many have paid. What we do know is that all across the country our constituents are having an unpleasant interaction with Obamacare,” Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “Whether they can sign up for a policy or not, they are discovering, of course, higher premiums, a higher deductible. Many of them are losing their jobs and so it is really a catastrophe for the country both for the healthcare providers and the consumers.”