Carney on Obamacare: 'This Is Not a Victory Lap'

By Susan Jones | April 1, 2014 | 7:56 AM EDT

White House spokesman Jay Carney (AP File Photo)

( - Although the final enrollment numbers are not yet known, the Obama administration is optimistic enough to claim success in implementing the Affordable Care Act.

"We're achieving something today that has our critics gnashing their teeth," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Monday.

"More than 6 million people have signed up," he said. "No one expected us to come back from the brink or to surpass the revised CBO projection that 6 million consumers would sign up in year one, but we have. And I think that merits noting in your reports."

Nevertheless, "this is not a victory lap," Carney said. "All this is about is providing benefits to the American people. It's really not about the midterm cycle or, you know, what a critic in the Senate or the House says versus what we say. It's about delivering on a promise that the Affordable Care Act embodies and that the president made and that many presidents prior to him tried to make."

Carney said it will take time for the "final, final number" open-enrollment number to come in, and he promised that demographic information will be released when it becomes available.

For the insurance program to work as intended, younger, healthier people must sign up to offset the costs of older, sicker people. There must be a mix of people who get subsidies and those who don't. And people who sign up must actually pay to get coverage.

"What I can tell you is that when we have demographic information, we'll certainly provide it to you," Carney said.

That information will come mainly from the insurance companies that issue the policies: "But we believe, again, that we're going to have significant numbers, both of people who have signed up and of people who have signed up and paid."

Carney said the White House is "very comfortable" that the people who signed up through the state and federal marketplaces will provide the right demographic mix for the marketplaces to function effectively.

He also noted that a "significant number" of people have qualified for Medicaid in states that expanded their Medicaid programs. He said he expects more states to expand their Medicaid programs as time goes on.

"What we know is that there are going to be more people in this country, in the millions, who have insurance, than would have had it before. And they will have security that they have not had before...

"And it will be very hard for Republicans and other critics to make the argument that a better world would be a world in which all those millions of Americans didn't have health insurance, didn't have protections against being denied coverage because they have a pre-existing condition, didn't have the ability to keep their kids, their adult children, on their insurance policies till age 26, didn't have the discounts that seniors get through the Affordable Care Act and all the preventive care measures through the Affordable Care Act.

"That's a tough argument, I would think, to make, except when you're preaching to a choir that's opposed to ACA regardless of what you say about the benefits."

Carney said it would be better for Republicans to acknowledge that the law is here to stay, and he faulted them for failing to produce an alternative plan that doesn't take away the benefits people already are getting.

The Affordable Care Act is "not just a one-year proposition." Sign-up numbers "will increase significantly over the course of several years," Carney said.

"And so, this is not -- it's not the end. It is the end of the first open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, and there'll be many more, for years and years to come."