I was there, in the East Room of the White House, on Tuesday, March 23, 2010, when President Obama, before an audience of almost giddy congressional Democrats, signed the Affordable Care Act into law. And I was there in the Rose Garden on Tuesday, April 1, 2014, when President Obama celebrated its success so far.
And what a celebration it was. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, National Economic Council Chair Jeff Zients and top adviser Valerie Jarrett were in the front row. So were Nancy Pelosi, Dick Durbin, Rosa DeLauro, Donna Edwards and Charlie Rangel, with more than 200 staffers crowded in behind them. They leapt to their feet and cheered when the president announced that 7.1 million people had signed up for health care by the March 31 deadline. One week later, when all those who had begun, but not completed, the process by March 31 were signed up, the total enrollment reportedly jumped to more than 7.5 million.
That’s 500,000 more than the 7 million sign-ups projected by the Congressional Budget Office, which, by itself, would be a significant achievement. But, given all the problems with the launch of the HealthCare.gov website and the two months of registration lost to repairing the damage, it’s a major miracle. Last fall, nobody predicted that the Affordable Care Act would achieve its 7 million goal let alone surpass it. And that doesn’t count an additional 4.5 million signed up for expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, nor 3 million young people under 26 added to their parents’ plan.
Admittedly, there are still questions about those numbers. We still don’t know how many young, healthy people signed up; how many of those who registered actually followed through and paid their first premium; or how many took advantage of Obamacare to replace an old policy with a new one. But that in no way takes away from Obama’s crowning achievement: Some 7 million Americans, who could never before afford or access it, now have the protection of health insurance for themselves and their families. In the words of Vice President Joe Biden, that is, indeed, a “BFD!”
In his April 1 remarks, Obama did more than announce results of the last-minute “surge” in registration. He explained what those 7 million-plus sign-ups mean. To deafening applause, he defiantly declared to opponents of Obamacare: “The debate over repealing this law is over. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.”
Not everybody got the message. Ironically, at that very moment, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Congressman Paul Ryan was unveiling the GOP 2014 budget which, among other provisions, completely repeals Obamacare and replaces it — with nothing. In the last four years, House Republicans have voted 54 times — 54 times! — to undo, revamp, defund or repeal the law and replace it with — nothing. And Republicans have made repeal of Obamacare the central argument of their campaign in the 2014 midterm elections.
That ain’t gonna happen. For a couple of reasons. First, because, even if Republicans succeed in getting a repeal bill through Congress, Obama would never sign it. Second, the more people who sign up for Obamacare, and the more who take advantage of its provisions, the more popular and entrenched it becomes. We see that happening already. In the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, while Obamacare opponents outnumber supporters, 46 percent to 38 percent, only 29 percent of Americans favor outright repeal. Forty-nine percent say Congress should “keep the law in place and work to improve it.” And individual provisions of the law — subsidies for the poor; preventive care; the fact that you can no longer be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition — are much more popular than the moniker “Obamacare.”
This week, further evidence of the law’s impact. Two different surveys, by Gallup and the Rand Corporation, found that the percentage of Americans without health insurance had fallen to the lowest level in six years: Proving, according to Gallup, that “Obamacare appears to be accomplishing its goal.”
The president’s right. Obamacare is here to stay. Pity poor Republicans. They have to find a new issue to run on.
Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show.