President celebrates Obamacare sign-up, rips Republicans

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WASHINGTON - President Obama made celebratory remarks at the White House yesterday after more than seven million signed up for health insurance by the end of the final day of eligibility under the nation's health care law.

What has become the signature law of the Obama presidency has now survived historic attacks from Republicans and corporate backers, an attempt to gut key provisions in the Supreme Court, refusal by GOP governors to accept federal funds that would expand insurance for the elderly, disabled and poor, and a disastrous rollout of the new health care exchange website.

The more than seven million who signed up on the exchanges exceeded both the scaled-down projections of  five or six million and the original administration predictions of seven million enrollees by Mar. 31.

Obama acknowledged the problems in getting things started but blasted Republicans for trying to repeal rather than improve the law.

"That is part of what change looks like in a democracy, change is hard, fixing what is broken is hard," Obama said. "But the debate over repealing the law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay."

House Republicans have voted more than 40 times to kill the law with many Republican governors refusing to implement Affordable Care Act provisions that would expand Medicaid in their states.

The president took time during his speech yesterday to challenge some of the more outrageous attacks on the ACA by Republicans.

"There are still no death panels. Armageddon has not arrived. Instead the law is helping millions of Americans and in the coming years it will help millions more."

The president said that in addition to the seven million or more who had signed up through the exchanges more than three million young people have gained access to insurance because of the Affordable Care Act's provision that allows individuals to stay on their parents insurance until age 26. Millions more on top of that, he noted, have gotten insurance under expansion of Medicare in their states.

The law has actually resulted in improvements beyond those mentioned by the president during his speech.

So far more than 40,000 with cancer and  chronic conditions have gotten insurance through the law's federally administered Pre Existing Condition Insurance Plan.

The Affordable Care Act provides $200 million for school-based healthcare centers which provide primary care, dental health, mental health, substance abuse counseling and health and nutrition counseling. By the end of 2011 the Department of Health and Human Services had already awarded $14 million to these school-based centers.

Under the law 350 new community health centers have already been built with 19,000 new jobs created. These centers are in medically underserved areas.

Under the law consumers get greater protection from private insurance premium hikes. Already, in 42 states, rate increases proposed by private companies have been either denied or reduced. Connecticut rejected entirely a 20 percent rate hike proposed by insurers while in Oregon a rate increase was cut in half, saving money for 60,000 people.

In 2011 alone some two million seniors saved more than $1.2 billion on prescription drugs, an average of $550 per person. Seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans saw their premiums decrease 14 percent from 2010 to 2011.

Women can no longer be charged higher rates than men for the same insurance.

Supporters of healthcare reform will increasingly be keeping their eyes on the 2014 elections. Although polls show that support for the Affordable Care Act is increasing they also show that the race for control of the U.S. Senate will be close. A Republican takeover of the Senate will make improving the law that much more difficult, ACA supporters say.

Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP

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