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Wednesday, 26 February 2014 00:56

Obama: Health insurance enrollment at 4 million

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pressing for a final rush of health care enrollees, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that about 4 million people have signed up for health insurance through federal or state marketplaces set up under his health care law.
   But with a key deadline approaching fast, he urged some of his most steadfast backers to help sign up millions more by then.
   "We've only got a few weeks left. March 31st, that's the last call," Obama said, explaining that anyone not signed up by that date will have to wait until open enrollment begins anew in the fall. In the meantime, they risk being fined for not having coverage.
   The White House has set an unofficial goal of 7 million enrollees by the end of March.
   Nearly 3.3 million people, or less than half the total, had enrolled through the end of January.
   Enrollment was slowed at the start of the sign-up period last October by numerous glitches in the health care website the administration created to help people find coverage. Some states running their own websites encountered problems, too.
   Obama blamed the depressed enrollment on the bungled website and on an "implacable opposition" that he said has spent hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to oppose the signature domestic policy accomplishment of his presidency.
   The president promised a "big push these last few weeks" to sign people up. Already, he and first lady Michelle Obama have talked up the health care law in interviews with radio and TV stations that reach largely black and Latino audiences. Vice President Joe Biden appeared Tuesday on "The View" to encourage its largely female viewership to help get people to buy coverage.
   "If they want health insurance now, they need to sign up now," Obama said.
   Besides the 4 million enrollees, Obama said millions more Americans were benefiting from the health care law's expansion of Medicaid as well as a provision that allows young people to stay on their parents' plans until they turned 26.
   Signing up enough people, particularly those who are young and healthy, is critical for the insurance pool at the heart of the law to function properly by keeping premiums low for everyone.
   Obama spoke to more than 300 activists at an Organizing for America summit at a Washington hotel. He later delivered a shortened version of his remarks to about 60 supporters at a by-invitation-only dinner in a nearby room.
   Organizing for Action is an advocacy group founded by former Obama campaign aides and supporters.
   Obama also sought his supporters' help to pressure Congress to raise the federal minimum wage for all workers. The president noted his recent action to raise the hourly minimum to $10.10 an hour for people working on federal contracts. But that will make a difference for just a few hundred thousand workers and not until the government awards new contracts or existing ones are renewed.
   Obama said a majority of Americans of all political persuasions support a higher minimum wage.
   "Let's get that minimum wage done and give America a raise," he said.
   Two hours before the president spoke, his former Republican presidential rival, Mitt Romney, was seen in the hotel lobby. A Romney adviser said the former Massachusetts governor was in Washington to deliver a speech and was staying at the hotel by coincidence.
 
Published in National News
Thursday, 14 November 2013 03:44

Obamacare enrollment low; Democrats unhappy

   WASHINGTON (AP) — Add simmering Democratic discontent to the problems plaguing "Obamacare," now that first-month enrollment figures are out.

   The White House is rushing to come up with an unspecified fix as early as this week to counter the millions of health coverage cancellations going to consumers, at the same time it promises improvements in a federal website so balky that enrollments totaled fewer than 27,000 in 36 states combined.

   The White House also is taking a more open approach to changes in the law itself. "We welcome sincere efforts," presidential press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday at the White House as Democratic impatience grew over a program likely to be at the center of next year's midterm elections for control of Congress.

   After weeks of highly publicized technical woes, the administration had said in advance the enrollment numbers would fall far short of initial expectations.

   They did, easily.

   A paltry 26,794 people enrolled for health insurance during the first, flawed month of operations for the federal "Obamacare" website.

   Adding in enrollment of more than 79,000 in the 14 states with their own websites, the nationwide number of 106,000 October sign-ups was barely one-fifth of what officials had projected — and a small fraction of the millions who have received private coverage cancellations as a result of the federal law.

   The administration said an additional 1 million people have been found eligible to buy coverage in the markets, with about one-third qualifying for tax credits to reduce their premiums. Another 396,000 have been found eligible for Medicaid, which covers low-income people.

   Republicans were unmoved.

   "Even with the administration's Enron-like accounting, fewer people have signed up for Obamacare nationwide than the 280,000 who've already lost their plan in Kentucky as a result of Obamacare mandates," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.

   Administration officials and senior congressional Democrats expressed confidence in the program's future. "We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is in overall charge.

   "Even with the issues we've had, the marketplace is working and people are enrolling," she added.

   Despite the expressions, the White House raced to reassure anxious Democrats who are worried about the controversial program, which they voted into existence three years ago over Republican opposition as strong now as it was then.

   Senate Democrats arranged a closed-door meeting for midday Thursday in the Capitol with White House officials, who held a similar session Wednesday with the House rank and file.

   So far, five Senate Democrats are on record in support of legislation by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to make sure everyone can keep their present coverage if they want to. The bill would require insurance companies to continue offering existing policies, even if they fall short of minimum coverage requirements in the law.

   The measure has little apparent chance at passage, given that it imposes a new mandate on the insurance industry that Republicans will be reluctant to accept.

   At the same time, a vote would at least permit Democrats to say they have voted to repair some of the problems associated with the Affordable Care Act, as many appear eager to do.

   In a statement, Landrieu said Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas were now supporting the legislation, as is Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. All but Feinstein are on the ballot next year.

   Across the Capitol, majority Republicans in the House set a vote for Friday on legislation to permit insurance companies to continue selling existing policies that have been ordered scrapped because they fall short of coverage standards in the law.

   While House passage of the measure is assured, each Democrat will be forced to cast a vote on the future of a program that Republicans have vowed to place at the center of next year's campaign.

   The promise of keeping coverage was Obama's oft-stated pledge when the legislation was under consideration, a calling card since shredded by the millions of cancellations mailed out by insurers.

   Obama apologized last week for the broken promise, but aides said at the time the White House was only considering administration changes, rather than new legislation.

Published in National News

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