(Corrects name of Kurt Kossen (not Kevin Kossen))
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, March 27 More than 6 million people
have now signed up for private insurance plans under President
Barack Obama's signature healthcare law known as Obamacare,
reflecting a surge in enrollments days before the March 31
deadline, the White House said on Thursday.
The milestone gives the White House some ammunition to use
against Republican critics, who have described the program as a
flop in the build-up to midterm congressional campaigns in
November, when Democratic control of the U.S. Senate is at
Only 10 days ago, the administration had pegged enrollment
at more than 5 million people, and enlisted celebrities and top
government officials to try to persuade more uninsured people -
particularly the young and healthy - to sign up.
The last-minute boost has exceeded the nonpartisan
Congressional Budget Office's estimate that 6 million people
would sign up in the program's first year, down from earlier
expectations of 7 million enrollees because of problems with
websites used for shopping for insurance.
Opinion polls show the program, formally called the
Affordable Care Act, is unpopular. A national survey by the Pew
Research Center between Feb. 27 and March 16 found 53 percent
disapproved of the law.
Obama's poll ratings have been hit hard by the poor rollout
of the program.
Even while traveling in Italy on Thursday, Obama could not
escape controversy about the program. After he visited Pope
Francis, the Vatican issued a statement expressing concern about
the law's requirement that employers cover the cost of
contraception in insurance plans.
From Italy, Obama spoke on a conference call with several
thousand people who are helping people enroll in the plans, the
White House said.
"The president encouraged the navigators and volunteers to
redouble their efforts over the next four days and leave no
stone unturned," the White House said in a statement.
'STARTING TO SEE YOUNGER CONSUMERS'
The administration has been aggressively courting the 18- to
34-year-old age group in the waning days of enrollment, a group
they have argued would be the last to sign up, but whose
participation is vital to keep future insurance costs down.
Younger consumers tend to be healthier and cheaper to
insure, compensating for the higher costs associated with older
and sicker enrollees.
Data as of February showed only a quarter of enrollees were
aged 18 to 34, short of the goal of 38 percent that
administration officials set out before enrollment began last
No official updates have since been provided, but there have
been signs the marketing to young people was starting to pay
"We are starting to see younger consumers at a higher rate
here towards the end of March," said Kurt Kossen, vice president
of retail marketing at Health Care Service Corp, a holding
company for Blue Cross Blue Shield in Illinois, Montana, New
Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
Kossen said his company has seen an increase in enrollment
over the past two weeks, with more calls to sales centers and
On HealthCare.gov, the website used to sign up for insurance
in 36 states, traffic has been heavy.
The White House said the site had more than 1.5 million
visits on Wednesday, while call centers received more than
430,000 calls, the White House said.
Monday and Tuesday also saw more than 1 million visits to
the website and more than 350,000 calls to call centers,
according to posts on Twitter by HealthCare.gov.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
told Congress earlier this month that the administration would
not extend the March 31 enrollment deadline.
The law requires most Americans to be enrolled in insurance
by that date, or pay a penalty.
But this week, the agency overseeing HealthCare.gov said
there will be a grace period for people who say they experienced
technical difficulties on the website or long wait times at
federal call centers.
(Additional reporting by Caroline Humer in New York; Editing by
Sandra Maler; and Peter Galloway)