Views You Can Use: Obamacare's 8 Million Milestone

The Affordable Care Act may not be such a disaster after all. 

The Associated Press

President Obama said Thursday enrollment numbers are evidence that his health care law is working.

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President Barack Obama announced Thursday that enrollment for the Affordable Care Act has reached 8 million, 1 million more than the administration’s original goal. According to the White House, 35 percent of those who signed up through the federal marketplaces are under 35 years old. Young enrollees are particularly important to keep costs low for everyone, because they are generally healthier and require less care than older Americans.

“Under the Affordable Care Act, the share of Americans with insurance is up, the growth of health care costs is down,” Obama said in a press conference Thursday. “All told, independent experts now estimate that millions of Americans who were uninsured have gained coverage this year - with millions more to come next year and the year after.”

[See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

Sarah Kliff of Vox said the reason so many people enrolled for Obamacare is straightforward: “Being uninsured is horrible.” She wrote that because the political debate surrounding the law saw people who already had health insurance debating the merits of Obama’s signature legislative achievement, they couldn’t understand how desperately the uninsured wanted coverage. “The health-care law beat its mark because it was selling something 8 million people want to buy,” Kliff wrote.

Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic emphasized that it’s too soon to know what the enrollment numbers really mean. He wrote that more time must pass to see how many people actually pay their premiums, and whether they are happy with the scope of the coverage they selected. It’s hard too, he said, to tell how the new figures will change the political debate around the law.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

“The 7 million threshold took on a cosmic significance, out of proportion to its relevance. But precisely because the law’s critics made such a big deal about it, coming close and maybe exceeding that number could reframe the nation's political conversation,” Cohn wrote. “Sooner or later, Republicans will have to answer the question they’ve managed to dodge so far: What would they do instead?”

The law has that political angle, wrote Evan McMurry of Mediaite, but also a policy angle: “Lack of enrollment was never just about the functionality of the law; it was supposed to symbolize Americans’ inherent rejection of it. Obamacare’s failure and Obamacare’s unpopularity were supposed to be one.”

This isn’t happening, he wrote, as numbers show an extra 2 million people on top of Congressional Budget Office estimates have enrolled. Insurance companies say about 85 percent of enrollees have paid their premiums, which would leave 6.8 million actually covered. He notes that popular opinion of Obamacare is changing with this news, but this doesn’t necessarily mean smooth sailing for Democrats in the 2014 midterm elections.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

“[P]ublic perception of the law is quietly and very slowly beginning to change, with the intensity of dislike for the law being blunted a bit,” McMurry wrote. “This is in no way, at all, to say that Democrats have an easy road in November, or that Obamacare won’t be exploited to the hilt in red state Senate races.”

Obama Thursday encouraged Democrats not to shy away from the law as they campaign this year, telling them to not to be apologetic or defensive of the law. But this doesn’t mean Democrats who had been distancing themselves from the White House and Obamacare will come running back, wrote Dylan Scott of Talking Points Memo.

“The law is still underwater nationwide and particularly in the states that seem likely to decide control of the Senate,” Scott wrote. “Republicans are going to keep shouting it down because poll after poll shows it motivates their voters. The fundamentals are in their favor because GOP voters historically turn out in midterms and the Democrats are defending seats in tough states.”