By Jeff Mason and David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s national healthcare program was on track to reach its goal of covering 7 million Americans, administration officials said on Tuesday, a victory for the White House after a months-long, glitch-filled rollout.
Obama is scheduled to make a statement about the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, at 4:15 p.m. EDT in the White House.
Obama’s remarks could be the start of a victory lap for his administration, which suffered from the botched unveiling of the program’s primary website, HealthCare.gov, and wavering support from Americans years after the healthcare law passed over Republican objections.
Officials did not provide exact updated figures, but the uptick in enrollment was in line with what experts predicted and it represented what the White House has called a comeback story that could boost Democrats in the November congressional elections.
Monday’s deadline for initial enrollment in the program came after a surge in registrations despite the return of technical problems, including a longer-than-expected maintenance session, although nothing as serious as the issues that beset the website’s launch in October.
The site on Tuesday announced that open enrollment for Obamacare had closed, but people whose applications were thwarted by technical problems would be given a chance to finish their registration.
By last week, more than 6 million people had signed up for private health coverage through the new Obamacare insurance markets, surpassing a target set after the disastrous rollout called the enrollment process into question.
Despite the figures, some questions about those who had signed up lingered.
“We still have a lot to learn about what underlies those numbers in terms of who signed up and how many were newly insured people versus switching from other coverage,” said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
“We have more to see … about how many of them actually completed enrollment and how much coverage expansion was accomplished.”
The healthcare law, one of Obama’s key promises as a presidential candidate in 2008, was intended to expand access to healthcare coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, so having enrollment figures that reflect newly insured people is critical to the program’s success.
Obama administration officials said on Tuesday the late surge in enrollment put the program “on track” to reach 7 million registrants, which was its original goal.
“We admittedly had just a terrible start because the website wasn’t working, and despite losing effectively two months, we are going to be reasonably close to that original projection,” Obama said in an interview aired on Monday on “The CBS Evening News.”
Joanne Peters, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that in addition to record traffic on the website, The Medicare & Medicaid phone center handled a record number of calls.
Democrats and Republicans are locked in an election-year battle with Republicans over the future of Obamacare. House Speaker John Boehner on Monday pledged once again to repeal the program.
(Additional reporting by Bill Trott, editing by G Crosse)