WASHINGTON (AP) - After a stumbling start, President Barack Obama's heath care overhaul reached a milestone Thursday, with more than 6 million Americans signed up for coverage through new insurance markets.
The announcement - four days before open enrollment season ends Monday - fulfills a revised goal set by the Congressional Budget Office and embraced by the White House.
Like much else about Obama's health care law, it comes with a caveat: The administration has yet to announce how many consumers actually closed the deal by paying their first month's premium. Some independent estimates are that as many as 10 percent to 20 percent have not paid, which would bring the total enrollment to between 5 million and 6 million people.
The White House said the president made the announcement during an international conference call with enrollment counselors and volunteers, while traveling in Italy. Administration officials, focused on signing up even more people over the weekend, played down the occasion.
To put the 6 million sign-ups in perspective, consider that the HealthCare.gov website didn't work when it was launched in October. Millions of people trying to access online marketplace exchanges that offer subsidized private insurance were met with frozen screens. Nonetheless, the administration's achievement is still short of the original target of covering 7 million people through the exchanges.
Several million more people have gained coverage through Medicaid.
Nonetheless, ongoing measurements by Gallup show that the number of Americans without coverage has been slowly dropping since coverage under the law took effect in January.
Monday is the deadline to enroll in the new insurance exchanges, but potentially millions of people will still be able to take advantage of extensions announced this week.
Achieving the 6 million level was a relief to congressional Democrats. The law remains unpopular with the public, and Republicans are making its repeal a central issue in the upcoming midterm elections.
Some Democrat lawmakers were hedging their bets. Five Democrats and one independent introduced a package of changes to the law Thursday, including one to spare companies with fewer than 100 employees from a requirement to provide coverage to workers. The current cutoff is 50.
The Senate legislation was drafted by Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Warner of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, along with Angus King, a Maine independent.