WASHINGTON — More than 6 million people have now signed up for private insurance plans under President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law known as Obamacare, reflecting a surge in enrollments days before the March 31 deadline, the White House said on Thursday.
The milestone gives the White House some ammunition to use against Republican critics, who have described the program as a flop in the build-up to midterm congressional campaigns in November, when Democratic control of the U.S. Senate is at stake.
Only 10 days ago, the administration had pegged enrollment at more than 5 million people, and enlisted celebrities and top government officials to try to persuade more uninsured people — particularly the young and healthy — to sign up.
The last-minute boost has exceeded the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office's estimate that 6 million people would sign up in the program's first year, down from earlier expectations of 7 million enrollees because of problems with websites used for shopping for insurance.
Opinion polls show the program, formally called the Affordable Care Act, is unpopular. A national survey by the Pew Research Center between Feb. 27 and March 16 found 53 percent disapproved of the law.
Obama's poll ratings have been hit hard by the poor rollout of the program.
Even while traveling in Italy on Thursday, Obama could not escape controversy about the program. After he visited Pope Francis, the Vatican issued a statement expressing concern about the law's requirement that employers cover the cost of contraception in insurance plans.
From Italy, Obama spoke on a conference call with several thousand people who are helping people enroll in the plans, the White House said.
"The president encouraged the navigators and volunteers to redouble their efforts over the next four days and leave no stone unturned," the White House said in a statement.