TIME

Obama Celebrates 7.1 Million Enrolled in Obamacare

Barack Obama, Joe Biden
President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, about the Affordable Care Act. Carolyn Kaster—AP

On Tuesday, the President spoke confidently about his signature health care law, after more than 7 million people enrolled by the March 31 deadline

President Barack Obama took a celebratory turn before the cameras Tuesday, announcing that 7.1 million Americans have enrolled in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

“The debate over repealing this law is over,” the President said to a standing ovation from a crowd filled with representatives of groups who helped with enrollment and outreach effort, as well as Administration employees involved with implementing the law. “The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”

Speaking in the sun-filled Rose Garden, Obama was all smiles as he outlined the progress made in fixing the website and getting millions enrolled in health insurance plans under Obamacare. Through Monday night, he said, 7.1 million signed up for state and federal exchanges. That number could grow once state-based exchanges calculate their Monday enrollment and an undetermined number of individuals still going through the enrollment process finish.

“The law’s not perfect. We’ve had to make adjustments along the way,” Obama said. “But this law is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s working. It’s helping people from coast to coast.” Though he admitted that the website had its problems and that the legislation is still contentious, he said the law has improved life for middle-class Americans. He pointed out that though premiums are still rising for families who have insurance, they have risen at a slower rate since the law passed than they have at any time during the past 50 years.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate majority whip Dick Durbin, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Vice President Joe Biden were among those on hand to mark the occasion, laughing and smiling before the President’s remarks. Although the President thanked Pelosi and Durbin by name, he did not single out Sebelius, who has been the subject of intense Republican criticism and internal frustration over the botched HealthCare.gov rollout.

Obama nodded to some of those critics in his remarks. “I have to admit, I don’t get it. Why are folks working so hard for people to not have health insurance?” He said, declaring the debate over repealing the law “over.” “There are still no death panels. Armageddon has not arrived. Instead this law is helping Americans, and in the coming years it will help millions more.”

The President issued a warning to Republicans against continuing their efforts to repeal the law. “History is not kind to those who deny Americans their basic economic security,” he said. Senior Administration officials told reporters on Tuesday that there was little the White House can do to change the basic perception of the law while Obama is in office, but that they are confident they can push back on Republican attacks and that the law will increase in popularity as it becomes part of the social safety net.

But Michael Steel, a spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner, said the new numbers changed nothing. “Despite the White House ‘victory lap,’ this law continues to harm the American people. Every promise the President made has been broken: health care costs are rising, not falling,” he said. “Americans are losing the doctors and plans that they like – especially seniors suffering under President Obama’s Medicare cuts. Small businesses are afraid to hire new workers, hobbling our economic growth. That’s why we must replace this fundamentally flawed law with patient-centered solutions that will actually lower health care costs and help create jobs.”

In the White House’s rush to celebrate, several questions about the health care law remained unanswered, including the demographic mix of the enrollees and how many of them previously had insurance, data that officials said will be released in the next several weeks. White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday the Administration is confident that the required mix has been achieved.

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