Obama hails health care sign-ups

President Obama said Thursday that a total of 8 million people signed up for health care insurance policies during the initial enrollment period that ended March 31.

"The Affordable Care Act is now covering more people at less cost" than many predicted, Obama said during a news conference in the White House press room.

The rise in health care costs is slowing and previously uninsured Americans are now covered, Obama said, adding: "This thing is working."

Obama again criticized Republicans who want to repeal the law, saying it's time to "move on" and focus on jobs and the overall economy. He called for "a change in attitude among the Republicans."

Congressional Republicans say the law will lead to higher costs and worse health care for most Americans.

"I have a question," tweeted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "How many Obamacare enrollees were previously uninsured?"

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cited the number of people who saw previous policies canceled: "Noticeably absent from the President's remarks today was any mention of the millions of Americans who were deceived about what Obamacare would mean for them and their families."

In addition to trumpeting health care, Obama also:

- Expressed hope for an emerging diplomatic plan to address violence in Ukraine, and said he will speaking with European leaders later Thursday. But the president, who has accused Russia of fomenting violence in southern and eastern Ukraine, said it will take several days to see if a new proposal pans out.

Obama spoke just a few hours after Secretary of State John Kerry announced that diplomats from Russia, Ukarine, the European Union, and the United States have agreed to a series of steps aimed at de-escalating the violence.

Obama, Kerry, and their aides have said they will move to put more economic sanctions on Russia if they do not stop activities in neighboring Ukraine.

Obama also said that "military options are not on the table in Ukraine."

-- Expressed condolences for the victims of the South Korea ferry disaster.

Obama spoke shortly after meeting with a group of state insurance commissioners, some of whom reported that the president cited a rush of young people -- under the age of 35 -- signing up late.

The news follows a busy week on the health care front.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced last Thursday she would step down from her post, the same day she told the House Finance Committee that the exchanges had enrolled at least 7.5 million people -- 1.5 million more than the Congressional Budget Office's projected in February, and half a million more than the office originally projected.

Obama has nominated Sylvia Mathews Burwell, current director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace Sebelius at HHS.

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office reported that it expects as many as 5 million people to enroll directly through private insurers, beyond the exchanges set up under the new law. That's in addition to the 8 million Obama said have now signed up.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act, meanwhile, say they're still waiting to hear how many people pay for their policies, if enough healthy people have enrolled to make the exchanges financially workable in the future, and how many of the enrollees use a month's worth of benefits to cover medical procedures they couldn't afford before but then don't continue to pay for their insurance.

In its Monday report, the CBO said it included only those it expected to follow through on payments in its projections.


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