Obama spotlights healthcare launch as Republicans try to block it

Reuters

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON, Oct 1 (Reuters) - President Barack Obamaspotlighted the opening day of sign-up for his landmarkhealthcare program on Tuesday, noting that it is taking placealthough Republicans in the U.S. Congress have shut down thegovernment because they oppose the law.

"Even though the government is closed, a big part of theAffordable Care Act is now open for business," Obama said in theWhite House Rose Garden, surrounded by people who would benefitfrom the provisions of the healthcare law.

Other administration officials fanned out to draw attentionto the law and how to use it to enroll in health insurance.

An interview with Vice President Joe Biden promoting theplan will air on 450 college radio stations in several states,the administration said.

The launch of the online exchanges was marred by technicalglitches that could give ammunition to opponents of the law. Checks by Reuters of the exchanges at middayturned up error messages or traffic overload notices for most ofthe federally run exchange sites.

Obama said such stumbles would not derail fullimplementation of the healthcare law. He likened the snags onthe online exchange to the bugs that commonly plague the rolloutof other technology-dependent products.

"Like every new law, every new product rollout, there aregoing to be some glitches in the sign-up process along the waythat we will fix," he said.

"Just a couple weeks ago Apple rolled out a new mobileoperating system, and within days they found a glitch, so theyfixed it," Obama said. "I don't remember anybody suggestingApple should stop selling iPhones or iPads or threatening toshut down the company if they didn't."

Unexpectedly high internet traffic volumes generated delaysin the operation of the online marketplaces for healthinsurance. The Department of Health and Human Services issued astatement saying more than 1 million people had visited thewebsite, HealthCare.gov, in the past day, leading to a five-foldincrease in Tuesday's volume.

The president and his aides said the heavy use by the publicwas a sign that the plan was catching on with the public.

"It's kinda like people trying to get tickets to the firstPirates home playoff game, right?" said White House spokesmanJay Carney, referring to Pittsburgh's baseball team, which hasjust reached the post-season playoffs for the first time in 21years.

"I mean, you know when you go on a site and it's hard toload the page, that it's because a lot of people like you wantto find out if tickets are available."

The administration says the healthcare law, which was acentral point of debate in last year's presidential election,which Obama won, will insure about 30 million people throughsubsidized private insurance or government-provided Medicaid.

Still, for many Republicans, trying to foil theimplementation of the law, which was signed in 2010, is a toppriority.

The Republican-led House of Representatives sought to makedelaying or defunding all or part of the law a condition forapproving government spending for the fiscal year that began onTuesday. Obama and his fellow Democrats refused to accept thoseconditions, and the impasse resulted in the government shutdown.

Obama accused congressional Republicans of waging an"ideological crusade" against the law, formally called theAffordable Care Act but popularly referred to as Obamacare.

Obamacare kicks into the critical phase of sign-up forhealth insurance through on-line exchanges that allowindividuals to shop for policies that suit their needs andpocketbooks.

The success of the exchanges depends on attracting a largecontingent of healthy young adults to keep coverage costs lowand the Obama administration has focused much of its publicityon appealing to that demographic. It is accelerating its push asthe six-month sign-up period begins.

Michelle Obama will target women with an editorial on Yahoo!Shine, a women's lifestyle website. White House adviser ValerieJarrett and other administration officials will do interviewswith radio stations reaching largely African-American audiences,the White House said.

Republicans, who control the House of Representatives butare in a minority in the Senate, strongly oppose the law, sayingit expands the intrusion of government into American's lives,forces employers to shed full-time positions to comply with thelaw, and will be a drag on the economy.

While they seek to gut the healthcare law as a condition forpassing federal budget legislation to keep the governmentfunded, they have threatened to do the same to a bill raisingthe borrowing limit on the $16.7 trillion the national debt.

The president has flatly refused to negotiate over raisingthe debt ceiling, saying it would a devastating, self-inflictedblow to default on the U.S. debt.

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