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Vital Obamacare goals lie ahead

On Monday, the Affordable Care Act passed its enrollment deadline. Sign-up numbers eclipsed the Obama administration’s ratcheted down goal of 6 million and came close, media groups say, to meeting the original 7 million target. It’s time to focus on the more important questions:

Will ACA significantly reduce the numbers who are uninsured and make health care affordable and accessible to all Americans? Will it lead to – or provide the foundation for – lower medical costs for individuals, families and businesses? Most important, will it lead to improved overall health outcomes and better health services?

Those questions likely won’t be answered for at least two or three years. But ACA can’t be judged a success or failure without them.

For a lot of people, though, the verdict is already in. Polls show from 46 percent to 57 percent opposing the law, depending on the survey.

The disastrous launch last fall of healthcare.gov didn’t help. Technology glitches kept millions sidelined from enrolling for health-care coverage on the federal website. Glitches continued on Monday, putting the website out of commission again. Administration officials said anyone who started the process or tried to get on the website and couldn’t by Monday’s deadline will be granted extra time to enroll.

Obamacare critics though should pay attention to what else the polls are saying. Survey respondents say they don’t want to repeal it. Nearly 60 percent in a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll said Congress should work to improve the measure or keep it the way it currently stands.

The polls also show public approval of specific parts of the law. A recent Bloomberg poll showed nearly 75 percent approve of allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance up to age 26. More than 66 percent approve of prohibiting insurers from denying health-care coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

The enrollment numbers underscore that many Americans are eager for access to affordable health care coverage. And though critics say many were previously insured, Gallup reported that the uninsured rate dropped from 17.1 percent in the last quarter of 2013 to 15.9 percent in the first quarter of 2014.

Much work lies ahead to fulfill ACA’s goal of making affordable, quality health services accessible to all Americans – improvements that will lead to better health outcomes. With the enrollment hoopla over, it’s time for policymakers to focus squarely on that goal.

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