US & Canada

'Obamacare' reaches sign-up goal of six million

Italian PM Matteo Renzi and US President Barack Obama Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Barack Obama spoke with supporters of the health law from Rome, where he met Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Thursday

US President Barack Obama says six million people have signed up for medical insurance under his healthcare law, meeting the administration's goal.

He announced the figure in a conference call with supporters days before the application period ends for enrolees.

The White House's initial goal was seven million, but this was revised amid last autumn's disastrous launch.

Public support for the law is at its lowest - 26% of Americans back it - found a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

'No stone unturned'

The first "open enrolment" period during which Americans can sign up for a health insurance plan ends on 31 March, though the Obama administration has extended the deadline for some people who continue to have trouble applying.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Thousands of workers have been signing people up for insurance ahead of the 31 March deadline

On Thursday, Mr Obama spoke on the phone from Italy with several thousand volunteers and workers who are guiding Americans through the often confusing process of signing up for insurance online.

"The president thanked the group for all their hard work to date and discussed the importance of building on this progress over the last four days of open enrolment," the White House said in a statement.

"The president encouraged the navigators and volunteers to redouble their efforts over the next four days and leave no stone unturned in trying to bring affordable health coverage to as many Americans as possible by the March 31 deadline."

The programme, widely known as Obamacare, was crippled at its October rollout by technical glitches, but it seems to have largely overcome those problems.

The 2010 law, known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is intended to extend health insurance to the roughly 48 million Americans who do not receive it through their employers, the government, or a privately purchased plan.

It also aims to slow the growth in the cost of healthcare.

Among its central provisions are online marketplaces called exchanges run by the states and by the federal government on which individuals can purchase health insurance plans, sometimes with generous subsidies.

Under the law, Americans who go without health insurance in 2014 and beyond pay a penalty.

The health law has been vigorously opposed by the Republican Party and by conservatives in the private sector who see it as an inappropriate government intrusion into the massive healthcare industry and an affront to personal liberty.

Conservatives are expected to try to tap into popular discontent with the law during November's midterm elections, which will determine the shape of Congress for Mr Obama's last two years in office.

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