- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2014

With the number of enrollees in Obamacare exchanges surging past 8 million, President Obama took a televised victory lap Thursday, saying his signature law is an economic success and is popular enough to survive congressional Republicans’ political attacks heading into the November elections.

Mr. Obama said the economics underpinning the Affordable Care Act are beginning to work, driving down the costs of premiums for private health care plans and cutting costs to the federal government for Medicare and Obamacare subsidies. The president also said 35 percent of the people receiving coverage in the exchanges are younger than 35.

“This thing is working,” he said at a hastily called press conference designed to tout the Obamacare numbers and to explain the latest developments in Ukraine.

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The 8 million enrollment number marks a major success for Mr. Obama, who scrambled six months ago after computer glitches nearly left the system stillborn. But the president nursed Obamacare with a series of delays and extensions — many of which Republicans said were illegal — and easily surpassed the initial target of 7 million sign-ups.

Beneath the enrollment numbers, though, are plenty of questions.

Although Mr. Obama touted the 35 percent of federal exchange enrollees he said were younger than 35, the administration acknowledged in a fact sheet that just 28 percent are 18 to 34 — the key demographic insurers need to sign up in order to cover the costs of older Americans with health conditions who no longer can be denied coverage. Economists said the number needed to prevent premium spikes is close to 40 percent.

Also, it’s still not clear how many of the 8 million enrollees have paid their premiums and are actually covered, nor has the administration said how many of those who enrolled had previous coverage canceled because it didn’t meet Affordable Care Act standards.

“The President says that Republicans have not accepted Obamacare as settled law. He is right,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, California Republican. “Republicans cannot and will not accept this law. Not only will Obamacare still leave millions uninsured while disrupting health care coverage for millions more, it harms jobs, cuts hours, and limits the individual liberty of each and every American.”

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, has said his conference is working on an Obamacare alternative, but it is unclear whether a concrete plan will be put up for a vote this year. Republicans say they will take their case to voters in November, predicting big gains based on voters’ discontent with the law.

Mr. Obama said Democrats, some of whom shirked Obamacare amid its balky rollout and their own tough re-election bids, “should forcefully defend” the law.

“I don’t think we should apologize for it, and I don’t think we should be defensive about it,” he said. “I think is a strong, good, right story to tell.”

The president cautioned that the law won’t solve everything that ails the health care system and said he is open to legislative tweaks, but not until Republicans acknowledge that Obamacare is here to stay.

“It’s hard in that environment to actually get it done,” Mr. Obama said, adding that no Republican is likely to reach out to him ahead of the midterm contests.

The president did not offer data on how many enrollees lacked insurance before finding it through his law or the proportion of consumers who have paid their first premiums.

A spokeswoman for Molina Healthcare of California told The Washington Times last week that up to 20 percent of enrollees never make their initial payment, or “binder.”

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