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Seven million sign up to cement Obamacare

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The risk that Obamacare will be repealed has diminished after a late influx of applications pushed the number of enrolments above seven million, solidifying the controversial scheme.

Buoyed by the enrolment numbers, President Barack Obama declared early this month that “the debate over repealing this law is over”.

Political commentators think it highly unlikely that the Republicans, who have been implacably opposed to the Affordable Care Act since its introduction, will be willing to follow through on their threat to repeal President’s Obama’s signature social reform because of the likely backlash from more than seven million policy holders.

The last-minute rush of people to sign up before the 31 March enrolment deadline was greeted with relief by White House officials and Congressional Democrats after a series of technical breakdowns and website crashes late last year raised fears the scheme would collapse, delivering a huge blow to the authority and prestige of President Obama and the Democrat Party.

The number of enrolments not only means that, politically, Obamacare’s future seems increasingly assured, but that it has a sufficient spread of enrolees to make the system financially viable. One of the chief concerns has been that only the sick and the elderly would sign up to Obamacare, forcing insurers to charge high premiums in order to make the system work.

But President Obama declared that the number of participants in the scheme assured its political and economic future.

“The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” the President said on 1 April. “The bottom line is this: the share of Americans with insurance is up, and the growth in the cost of insurance is down. There’s no good reason to go back.”

Triumphant senior Democrat Senator Dick Durbin told Obamacare’s Republican critics, “You’re not going to turn away 7 or 10 million people from insurance coverage. Doesn’t work anymore.”

But, while the basic Obamacare scheme may be cemented in place, Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus is among those who expect it will undergo significant changes to attract more enrolments and reduce the burden on business.

Among the possible amendments is to introduce a fifth tier of coverage involving lower up-front premium costs in exchange for higher co-payment and excess charges, a move being touted as a way to attract the many put off by what they see as the expensive range of policies currently on offer under the scheme.

The Obama Administration may also attempt to widen Obamacare’s political appeal by changing the threshold under which it is mandatory for businesses to offer health insurance to their workers from those firms with at least 50 employees to those with at least 100. The change is being touted as an important step in reducing the administrative burden of the scheme.

Adrian Rollins