- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2014

The federal Obamacare website began the final day of open enrollment Monday the same way the website launched in October — with a glitch that prevented consumers from enrolling.

But by the middle of the day, the glitch was fixed and President Obama and his supporters were touting the millions of Americans they say now have insurance.

White House officials said they have made big strides in signing up younger Americans, who are the key to Obamacare’s economics, and have enrolled more than 6 million people overall in the exchanges.

“I dare say that there are few people in this room, including some of the folks who work in the White House, who would have predicted that we would get to that number,” press secretary Jay Carney said, citing the disastrous debut of the HealthCare.gov website in October.

Republicans counter that Democrats’ optimism will translate into shattering defeats at the ballot box in November, when Americans get a full accounting of the sign-up season and how the law will affect premiums later this year.

“The worst is yet to come,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, told Fox News.

Monday marked the final official day for Americans who rely on the federal Obamacare exchanges to sign up, though Mr. Obama has granted a grace period for those who claim they tried to sign up by March 31 but were unable to complete their forms.

Some states that are running their own exchanges also have announced extensions.

Those who lack coverage as of Tuesday are subject to the individual mandate penalty, to be assessed by the Internal Revenue Service on 2014 income tax forms.

HealthCare.gov experienced record traffic Monday, but a glitch prevented new customers from enrolling. Instead, they saw error messages reminiscent of the capacity and software problems that nearly doomed the law in its infancy.

The glitch was fixed by early afternoon, though Republicans mocked the hiccups, particularly because Americans who failed to sign up by the deadline will face the tax penalty.

But House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said the problems go far deeper than the website glitches.

“It’s the whole law,” he said in a statement Monday. “Millions of Americans are seeing their premiums rise, not the lower prices the president promised. Many small businesses are afraid to hire new workers, instead cutting hours and dropping health coverage for existing employees.”

He said Republicans will continue to push for a repeal of the law.

Public support for the law remained lukewarm but reached an all-time high in an ABC/Washington Post poll, with 49 percent in support and 48 percent opposed.

The rocky rollout of the Affordable Care Act is the centerpiece of a Republican strategy to retake the Senate in November’s midterm elections. For months, operatives have battered vulnerable Democrats for standing by Mr. Obama when Congress enacted the law in 2010 and then promised Americans they could keep health care plans they liked.

That promise proved faulty when millions of consumers received cancellation notices last year saying their policies — which Mr. Obama repeatedly and emphatically said Americans could keep if they liked — did not meet Obamacare’s standards.

Mr. Obama decided to let people renew bare-bones plans for a few more years, but Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, Texas Republican, told Fox News on Monday that the president’s credibility “has taken a body blow” since the episode.

Republican critics also say the administration has not provided a full accounting of its enrollment figures.

It is unclear how many customers were uninsured before they turned to Obamacare, or how many of them have paid their first month’s premiums.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told an Oklahoma television station Monday that 80 percent to 90 percent of enrollees have paid, yet “lots of companies have different timetables for when their new customers have to send their first payment.

“You are not fully enrolled — you’re absolutely right — until you pay your premium,” she told News 9 KWTV.

It was the secretary’s clearest explanation to date. One Republican senator charged Sunday that administration officials were “cooking the books.”

“If we were cooking the books, don’t you think we would have cooked them in October and November?” Mr. Carney said Monday, referring to the woeful numbers last fall. “We could have saved ourselves a lot of pain.”

HealthCare.gov covers about two-thirds of states, the ones that chose to let the federal government set up their exchanges.

Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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