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WASHINGTON (AP) -- A surge of eleventh-hour enrollments has improved the outlook for President Barack Obama's health care law, with more people signing up overall and a much-needed spark of interest among young adults.

Nonetheless, Obama's announcement Thursday that 8 million have signed up for subsidized private insurance, and that 35 percent of them are younger than 35, is just a peek at what might be going on with the nation's newest social program.

Still to be announced is what share of those enrolled were previously uninsured - the true test of Obama's Affordable Care Act - and how many actually secured coverage by paying their first month's premiums.

"This thing is working," a confident Obama said of his signature domestic achievement. The days of website woes and canceled policies seemed far behind.

State-by-state statistics, expected as early as next week, will provide a much fuller picture.

A key question is how many of those signed up were young adults, ages 18-34. They're the health care overhaul's most coveted demographic because they're healthier than older adults and their premiums can help cross-subsidize care for the sick. That would help hold down future premium increases.

According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, young adults 18-34 represent about 40 percent of the people eligible to buy coverage in the health care law's new insurance markets. The White House says that group now accounts for 28 percent of those who have picked a plan in states where the federal government is running the insurance exchanges.

Not perfect, but not bad either, said Larry Levitt, an insurance expert with Kaiser.

"Enrollment among young adults ended up lower than their share of the target population but sufficient to keep the market stable in the vast majority of the country," he said.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is forecasting only a slight average increase in premiums for 2015. Some private insurance experts expect big differences around the country, predicting that insurers will seek noticeably higher premiums, around 6 percent to 8 percent on average.

Republicans were having none of Obama's celebration. A statement from the office of Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he remains committed to repealing the law and replacing it.

The president appeared in the White House briefing room to trumpet the new figures, which beat initial projections by 1 million people

Following the disastrous rollout of the insurance exchanges in October, when HealthCare.gov was virtually unusable, Democrats have been hoping that higher-than-expected results could help their candidates reclaim the political high ground ahead of the midterm elections.

Seven months out from Election Day, they're seeking to turn the page on the law's flawed debut - a strategy underscored last week when Obama announced that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who became the face of the rollout failure, was stepping down.

Polling shows the law remains unpopular in much of the country, yet most Americans say they don't expect it to be entirely repealed, but changed in some way.

With the insurance markets looking increasingly viable, Obama and Democrats were hoping to move the political debate away from repeal and toward efforts to fix lingering issues.

Republicans have been reluctant to pursue fixes for fear of tacitly embracing the overall law. Obama said that it's "absolutely possible" to make improvements but that it would require a change of attitude from Republicans.

---

AP Medical Writer Carla Johnson in Chicago contributed to this report.

© 2014 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about ourPRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — Fresh questions arose about whether quicker action by the captain of a doomed ferry could have saved lives, even as rescuers scrambled to find hundreds of passengers still missing Friday and feared dead.

Officials also offered a rare look at their investigations, saying they were looking into whether a crewman's order to abruptly turn the ship contributed to the 6,852-ton Sewol ferry tilting severely to the side and filling with water Wednesday.

The confirmed death toll from Wednesday's sinking off southern South Korea was 28, the coast guard said. Most of bodies have been found floating in the ocean because divers have been continually prevented from getting inside the ship by strong currents and bad weather. But 48 hours after the sinking the number of deaths was expected to rise sharply with about 270 people missing, many of them high school students on a class trip. Officials said there were 179 survivors.

New questions were raised by a transcript of a ship-to-shore exchange and interviews by The Associated Press that showed the captain delayed evacuation for half an hour after a South Korean transportation official ordered preparations to abandon ship.

The order at 9 a.m. by an unidentified official at the Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center to put on lifejackets and prepare for evacuation came just five minutes after a Wednesday morning distress call by the Sewol ferry. A crewmember on the ferry, which was bound for Jeju island, replied that "it's hard for people to move."

The ship made a sharp turn between 8:48 a.m. and 8:49 a.m. Korea time, but it's not known whether the turn was made voluntarily or because of some external factor, Nam Jae-heon, a director for public relations at the Maritime Ministry, said Friday.

The captain has not spoken publicly about his decision making, and officials aren't talking much about their investigation, which includes continued talks with the captain and crew. But the new details about communication between the bridge and transportation officials follow a revelation by a crewmember in an interview with The Associated Press that the captain's eventual evacuation order came at least half an hour after the 9 a.m. distress signal.

Meanwhile, strong currents and rain made rescue attempts difficult again as they entered a third day. Divers worked in shifts to try to get into the sunken vessel, where most of the missing passengers are thought to be, said coast guard spokesman Kim Jae-in.

Coast guard officials said divers began pumping air into the ship Friday, but it wasn't immediately clear if the air was for survivors or for a salvage operation. Officials said in a statement that divers were still trying to enter the ship.

South Korean officials also offered a glimpse into their investigation of what may have led to the sinking. They said the accident happened at a point where the ferry from Incheon to Jeju had to make a turn. Prosecutor Park Jae-eok said in a briefing that investigators were looking at whether the third mate ordered a turn whose degree was so sharp that it caused the ship to list. The captain was not on the bridge at the time, Park said, adding that officials were looking at other possible causes, too.

Park also said crews' testimonies differed about where the captain was when the ship started listing. As that listing continued, the captain was "near" the bridge, Park said, but he couldn't say whether the captain was inside or right outside the bridge.

The operator of the ferry added more cabin rooms to three floors after its purchase the ship, which was built in Japan in 1994, an official at the private Korean Register of Shipping told the AP on Friday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not allowed to discuss matters under investigation, said the extension work between October 2012 and February 2013 increased the Sewol's weight by 187 tons and added enough room for 117 more people. The Sewol had a capacity of 921 when it sank.

As is common in South Korea, the ship's owner, Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd, paid for a safety check by the Korean Register of Shipping, the official said, which found that the Sewol passed all safety tests, including whether the ship could stabilize in the event of tilting to the right or to the left after adding more weight.

Ian Winkle, a British naval architect and ferry expert said many ships have such modifications, to increase capacity, for instance. "In this particular case, it would have affected the stability by a small amount, but as it seems from the structure of the vessel, generally, it looks as if it was adequate to meet statutory regulations," Winkle said.

Near the site of the ferry, angry and bewildered relatives gathered on a nearby island watched the rescue attempts. Some held a Buddhist prayer ritual, crying and praying for their relatives' safe return.

"I want to jump into the water with them," said Park Geum-san, 59, the great-aunt of another missing student, Park Ye-ji. "My loved one is under the water and it's raining. Anger is not enough."

Kim, the coast guard spokesman, said two vessels with cranes arrived and would help with the rescue and to salvage the ferry, which sank not far from the southern city of Mokpo. But salvage operations hadn't started yet because of the rescue attempts.

Out of 29 crewmembers, 20 people, including the captain, Lee Joon-seok, 68, survived, the coast guard said.

The captain made a brief, videotaped appearance, although his face was hidden by a gray hoodie. "I am really sorry and deeply ashamed," Lee said. "I don't know what to say."

Kim Soo-hyun, a senior coast guard official, said officials were investigating whether the captain got on one of the first rescue boats.

The 146-meter (480-foot) Sewol had left Incheon on the northwestern coast of South Korea on Tuesday for the overnight journey to the southern resort island of Jeju. There were 475 people aboard, including 325 students from Danwon High School in Ansan, which is near Seoul,

It was three hours from its destination Wednesday morning when it began to list for an unknown reason.

Oh Yong-seok, a helmsman on the ferry with 10 years of shipping experience, said that when the crew gathered on the bridge and sent a distress call, the ship was already listing more than 5 degrees, the critical angle at which a vessel can be brought back to even keel.

The first instructions from the captain were for passengers to put on life jackets and stay where they were, Oh said.

A third mate reported that the ship could not be righted, and the captain ordered another attempt, which also failed, Oh said. A crew member then tried to reach a lifeboat but fell because the vessel was tilting, prompting the first mate to suggest to the captain that he order an evacuation, Oh said.

About 30 minutes after passengers were told to stay in place, the captain finally gave the order to evacuate, Oh said, adding that he wasn't sure in the confusion and chaos on the bridge if the order was relayed to the passengers. Several survivors told the AP that they never heard any evacuation order.

By then, it was impossible for crew members to move to passengers' rooms to help them because the ship was tilted at an impossibly acute angle, he said. The delay in evacuation also likely prevented lifeboats from being deployed.

"We couldn't even move one step. The slope was too big," said Oh, who escaped with about a dozen others, including the captain.

The last major ferry disaster in South Korea was in 1993, when 292 people were killed.

___

Klug reported from Seoul. Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim in Ansan and Jung-yoon Choi in Seoul contributed to this report.

SUB SCOURS OCEAN FOR MISSING MALAYSIAN JET

Friday, 18 April 2014 06:45 Published in National News

PERTH, Australia (AP) — A robotic submarine headed back down into the depths of the Indian Ocean on Friday to scour the seafloor for any trace of the missing Malaysian jet one month after the search began off Australia's west coast, as data from the sub's previous missions turned up no evidence of the plane.

It was the fifth attempt by the Bluefin-21 unmanned sub to find wreckage or the black boxes from Flight 370 in a distant patch of seabed. The sub, which can create sonar maps of the ocean bottom, has now covered 110 square kilometers (42 square miles) of the silt-covered seabed, but has thus far found nothing, the search coordination center said. The sub's last mission hit a record depth beyond its recommended diving parameters, which can potentially cause risk to the equipment, the U.S. Seventh Fleet said in a statement. However, it is being closely monitored.

Officials are desperate to find some physical evidence that they are searching in the right spot for the Boeing 777, which vanished March 8 with 239 on board on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. A weeks-long search of the ocean surface hasn't turned up a single piece of debris, and officials on Thursday determined that an oil slick found in the search zone did not come from the plane.

The Bluefin is searching a remote stretch of ocean floor about 4,500 meters (15,000 feet) deep in an area where sound-locating equipment picked up a series of underwater sounds consistent with an airplane's black box, but it went down to 4,695 meters (15,404 feet) during mission four. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said officials are "very confident" the sounds came from the Malaysian jet's cockpit voice and flight data recorders, but finding the devices in such deep water is an incredibly difficult task.

Radar and satellite data show the plane flew far off-course and would have run out of fuel in a remote section of the Indian Ocean. Planes and ships have been scouring the ocean surface for a month, to no avail.

On Friday, 11 planes and 12 ships were continuing the surface search across about 52,000 square kilometers (20,000 square miles) of ocean. The U.S. alone has flown 35 missions, racking up 319 hours of flight time over nearly 450,000 nautical miles of ocean, according to the Seventh Fleet.

Angus Houston, who is heading up the search effort, said earlier this week that the hunt for floating debris would be ending within days, because it is unlikely that anything will be found. But the search coordination center said the effort would continue into next week, more than six weeks after the plane vanished.

Malaysia's defense minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, confirmed that the search would continue through the Easter weekend, but acknowledged that officials would have to rethink their strategy at some point if nothing is found.

"There will come a time when we need to regroup and reconsider, but in any event, the search will always continue. It's just a matter of approach," he said at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

The U.S. Navy's unmanned sub cut short its first mission on Monday because it exceeded its maximum operating depth of 4,500 meters (15,000 feet). Searchers moved it away from the deepest waters before redeploying the sub to scan the seabed with sonar to map a potential debris field.

But the search coordination center said Thursday that officials are now confident the sub can safely go deeper than was thought, allowing it to cover the entire search area, which has been narrowed based on further analysis of the four underwater signals previously detected.

___

Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.

___

Follow Margie Mason on Twitter at twitter.com/MargieMasonAP

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