President Barack Obama celebrated a better-than-expected 7.1 million sign-ups for health coverage that he said should end the debate over whether his signature legislation should be repealed.

Mr. Obama announced the 7 million threshold that once was seen as unattainable, even as the number still could climb. People who started applying but couldn’t finish before the Monday midnight deadline can have extra time, as do potential enrolees whose special circumstances kept them from signing up in time.

“The Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” Mr. Obama declared in a feisty Rose Garden speech the day after the deadline for Americans to enrol.

The 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act has been the No. 1 legislative achievement of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

Eager to deny Mr. Obama any kind of legislative legacy, Republicans have bitterly opposed the law which they say swells big government and represents an unprecedented federal intrusion in the U.S. economy.

It remains unclear how well the Affordable Care Act will work and whether its implementation will see Americans change their views on a law that remains unpopular and widely misunderstood.

About 50 million Americans lacked health care coverage as the law began taking effect, and supporters hope it will significantly reduce the ranks of the uninsured.

But the administration has not said how many of those who already have signed up closed the deal by paying their first month’s premiums. Also unknown is how many were previously uninsured, the real test of Mr. Obama’s health care overhaul.

In addition, the law expands coverage for low-income people through Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor, but only about half the states have agreed to implement that option.

The months ahead will show whether the Affordable Care Act will meet its mandate to provide affordable health care coverage or whether high deductibles, paperwork snags and narrow physician networks make it a bust.

After winning control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections, Republicans have voted more than 50 times to revoke or seriously undermine the program, widely known as “Obamacare.” Those bills have never made it to the floor in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The law is at the centre of competitive congressional races across the country. Michael Steel, spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner, argued that the law was harming the American people.

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