The administration had hoped that as many as 500,000 people would select a health plan in October, the first month of enrollment.
The president's backers said the enrollment numbers did not tell the full story. They pointed to the much larger number of Americans who had completed the eligibility process, while not yet enrolled. They noted that large, new government programs typically started slow, and that enrollment growth built over time, highlighting how that was the case in Massachusetts when that state started a healthcare plan similar to Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Obamacare advocates also argued that the states where the fewest residents were enrolled tended to be the ones where officials have fought implementation of the law.
"Today's numbers … show that in states where governors, healthcare providers, faith leaders, labor and business are working together, the law is working and saving lives," said Mary Kay Henry, president of Service Employees International Union. "Where obstructionism and foot-dragging rule the day, hard-working Americans are being left behind."
The national figures are indeed lower than projected, said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. But she attributed it to the technological problems plaguing the program's website.
"Massachusetts' implementation of healthcare reform shows that we can expect enrollment to grow through the next five months," she said in a statement.
Despite the president's best efforts to find some positive news in the report, it was a tough day for the Affordable Care Act. Republicans eager to repeal it seized on the figures. Several statements pointed out how many more people have been warned they will be losing their healthcare plans as a result of the law than have managed to enroll in new ones.
“The abysmal Obamacare enrollment numbers are another early warning sign that this legislation is deeply flawed and ultimately cannot be fixed,” said a statement from Sen.