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More than 6 million sign up for Obamacare

WASHINGTON--U.S. President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul, back on track after a stumbling start, has reached a milestone, with more than 6 million Americans signed up for coverage through new insurance markets.

The announcement Thursday — four days before open enrollment season ends Monday — fulfills a revised goal set by the Congressional Budget Office and embraced by the White House, which has been working vigorously to implement Obama's most significant first term achievement.

Achieving the 6 million level was a relief to congressional Democrats, who passed the measure. The law remains unpopular with the American public, and Republicans are making its repeal their rallying cry in the upcoming November elections.

Like much else about Obama's health care law, the 6 million level comes with a caveat: The administration has yet to announce how many consumers actually closed the deal by paying their first month's premium. Some independent estimates are that as many as 10 percent to 20 percent have not paid, which would bring the total enrollment to between 5 million and 6 million people.

The White House said the president made the announcement during an international conference call with enrollment counselors and volunteers, while traveling in Italy. Administration officials, focused on signing up even more people over the weekend, played down the occasion. Others said it was unmistakably a promising sign.

“I think the program is finally starting to hit its stride in terms of reaching the enrollment goals the administration set,” said John Rother, chief executive of the National Coalition on Health Care, a nonpartisan coalition of businesses, health care industry groups and consumer organizations. “It still has a ways to go in terms of achieving public acceptance.”

To put the 6 million sign-ups in perspective, consider that the HealthCare.gov website didn't work when it was launched in October. Millions of people trying to access online marketplace exchanges that offer subsidized private insurance were met with frozen screens. Nonetheless, the administration's achievement is still short of the original target of covering 7 million people through the exchanges.

Several million more people have gained coverage through Medicaid, the government-run health program for the poor. That safety net program was also expanded under the law, but only about half of states have gone along.

Nonetheless, ongoing measurements by Gallup show that the number of Americans without coverage has been slowly dropping since coverage under the law took effect in January.

Monday is the deadline to enroll in the new insurance exchanges, but potentially millions of people will still be able to take advantage of extensions announced this week.

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