Hours before ObamaCare's enrollment deadline, the networks provided an overall positive take on the law and allowed the White House to defend its signature legislation, leaving no room for a Republican response.
CBS highlighted the last-minute rush to sign up on the exchanges but when it reported that the final enrollment numbers would fall short of the White House's original prediction, it turned to President Obama who downplayed the shortfall. At least NBC and ABC noted that questions still need answering, like how many enrollees actually paid their first premium.
"In the beginning the government expected 7 million would sign up by today. In an interview on Friday, President Obama told us it's likely to be just short of that," reported CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley.
And CBS even blamed website glitches on the law's popularity: "Since Saturday, Healthcare.gov has had more than 4 million visits. That overwhelmed the site. It went down twice today. And places where you can sign up in person were mobbed."
NBC's White House correspondent Peter Alexander wouldn't reveal the "expert" he talked to but said that he viewed the law's progress as "promising": "Brian, as one expert told me tonight, it's a promising start but it is only a start."
ABC played a little White House stenographer, featuring a message from Vice President Biden and replaying a clip of President Obama's appearance with comedian Zach Galifianakis – both to pitch ObamaCare to young people.
"It looked like Election Day, as the VP visited an enrollment center in Washington and made a last-minute pitch on the talk show hosted by celebrity chef Rachael Ray," noted Jonathan Karl.
However, NBC and ABC did question the enrollment numbers. ABC's Karl noted that "many questions are still unanswered, including how many people have actually paid to enroll." He continued that the administration "haven't been able to tell us how many of them [enrollees] were previously uninsured and how many of them are young and healthy."
Alexander admitted, "It will be a couple of weeks before we get the final enrollment numbers but it may be a couple of years before we truly know how well this law works."
Below is a transcript of the segments:
[6:34 p.m. EST]
SCOTT PELLEY: Midnight Eastern Time tonight is the deadline for signing up for insurance through the ObamaCare website. At least 6 million have enrolled, but a lot have waited until the last minute. Since Saturday, Healthcare.gov has had more than 4 million visits. That overwhelmed the site. It went down twice today. And places where you can sign up in person were mobbed. Vincente Arenas is in Miami.
VICENTE ARENAS: (voice over) People started lining up at this mall in Miami at 3:30 this morning. By noon more than a thousand had come here to try to sign for ObamaCare.
(On camera) When you walked in and you saw these long lines, what went through your mind?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I am going to be here for six hours.
ARENAS: 22-year-old Julissa Manyoma is an uninsured bartender. When she got here, she found out the Healthcare.gov web site was down. She and hundreds of others including 24 year-old Pierre Martinez, an unemployed cook, decided to wait it out to try to beat the deadline.
PIERRE MARTINEZ: To me it's one simple point coming here. I just do it because the government, I just don't want to keep on getting more penalized.
ARENAS: What's it been like this morning?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Chaos.
ARENAS: Odalys Arevalo is the insurance agent who set up this enrollment center. Her 50 agents do not work for the government. They get a commission from insurance companies to sell policies available in the government's health insurance marketplace. Today they were helping people prove they attempted to get coverage so they could try again later.
AREVALO: It's very difficult. Very difficult. We've had very angry people this morning. Lined up since very early and then walking away with just nothing.
(End Video Clip)
ARENAS: There are still several hundred people here tonight waiting to start the process. And Scott, many say that if the web site stays down, they'll be back tomorrow.
PELLEY: Vincente, thanks very much. In the beginning the government expected 7 million would sign up by today. In an interview on Friday, President Obama told us it's likely to be just short of that.
BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: We admittedly had just a terrible start because the web site wasn't working. And despite losing effectively two months, we are going to be reasonably close to that original projection. And in terms of the mix, what we've seen as we anticipated, is that more young people are signing up late than early. But given how gloomy I think everybody's assessment was back in the middle of November, I would say that we are on our way to making sure that no American ever has to go without health care.
PELLEY: So generally speaking, if you missed today's deadline and you have no health insurance, it's likely that you will have to pay at least a $95 fine in your income taxes next year. The next opportunity to enroll in the government system will be this November for coverage in 2015.
6:33 p.m. EST
DIANE SAWYER: And tonight, a mad scramble is under way across the country and online as the midnight hour approaches. It is the deadline to sign up for ObamaCare on the website Healthcare.gov, which faltered a bit today after that infamously troubled start. ABC's chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl now on the surge and the sprint to the finish.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC News chief White House correspondent: In Dallas today, hundreds of people waited in line to sign up for health care.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We will be here until 9:00, or until the last person leaves today.
KARL: Long lines in Miami, too, and San Antonio.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Got here at 6, about 6:30, got in at about 9:20 and I'm still here.
KARL: It looked like Election Day, as the VP visited an enrollment center in Washington and made a last-minute pitch on the talk show hosted by celebrity chef Rachael Ray.
JOE BIDEN, Vice President of the United States: Any young person listening, if you don't need this for your peace of mind, do it for mom. Do it for your dad. Get health coverage, do it for mom.
KARL: Deadline day has brought an ObamaCare surge. By noon today, more than a million visitors to Healthcare.gov. But even now, there were still glitches. The website down for hours this morning and again early this afternoon. Even the countdown clock on the White House website was off. It wasn't 16 days until the deadline, but 16 hours. The White House dogs joined an unconventional White House push today that also saw some odd presidential appearances designed to appeal to young people.
OBAMA: Have you heard of Healthcare.gov?
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS, comedian: Okay, let's get this out of the way. What did you come here to plug?
KARL: And a mash-up of celebrity endorsements parodied by Saturday Night Live. The pitches may have worked, but many questions are still unanswered, including how many people have actually paid to enroll.
(On camera) How many of those who have signed up have actually paid?
JAY CARNEY: We don't have those figures. When we do, we'll get them to you.
(End Video Clip)
KARL: The White House says 6 million have signed up, but they haven't been able to tell us how many of them were previously uninsured and how many of them are young and healthy. Both, Diane, critical measures of this law's success.
SAWYER: All right, Jonathan Karl, thank you.
[7:07 p.m. EST]
BRIAN WILLIAMS: We're just hours from the midnight deadline now to sign up for health care for the year, or face a penalty. And with the last minute surge and people rushing to beat the clock today came some new glitches with the website. White House correspondent Peter Alexander on the North Lawn for us tonight. Peter, good evening.
PETER ALEXANDER: Brian, good evening. Just a few months ago, there were real questions whether this law would work at all. But today the White House is touting a new flood of sign-ups thanks to last-minute shoppers and others who struggled to enroll in the past. Still today wasn't without more web problems.
ALEXANDER: (voice over) In San Antonio, long lines filled the Alamodome, in Tampa, they crammed community center hallways. Administration officials say this has been their biggest enrollment day since sign-ups began last October, three times their previous record.
CARLO MARK SPICOLA: I want the insurance, because now more than ever, my daughter, I want to care of my health, but signing up seems to be the problem.
ALEXANDER: On daytime TV, vice president Joe Biden tried to reassure procrastinators.
BIDEN: They are able to, even if the deadline closes, to stay in line. They can get into the system.
ALEXANDER: The First Lady even enlisted help to make a pitch. Today, the White House said substantially more than six million people have signed up. Within sight of their early predictions.
KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, Health and Human Services Secretary I think success looks like at least 7 million people having signed up by the end of March, 2014.
ALEXANDER: Still, for a while today it seemed like the Healthcare.gov website might finish the way it started. Off-line briefly this morning due to a software bug, and again this afternoon preventing new applicants from logging in. People have until midnight tonight to sign up for private health insurance in 2014 through the market places and to avoid paying a penalty if they don't. The penalties are minimal this year, as low as $95 per adult. But by 2016, that number jumps to nearly $700, with a variety of exemptions. Still unanswered, how many people have actually paid for their coverage, how man were uninsured from before, and what percentage of enrollees are young and healthy? Critical to offset the higher costs of older, sicker adults. That mix will affect how much you pay in years to come.
(End Video Clip)
ALEXANDER: It will be a couple of weeks before we get the final enrollment numbers but it may be a couple of years before we truly know how well this law works. Brian, as one expert told me tonight, it's a promising start but it is only a start.