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US Starts Selling Health Insurance to Uninsured

  • VOA News

Senator Barbara Boxer (R) holds up a passage from the Affordable Care Act concerning health care benefits for women during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 30, 2013.

Senator Barbara Boxer (R) holds up a passage from the Affordable Care Act concerning health care benefits for women during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 30, 2013.

The U.S. has started offering to sell health insurance to millions of people who do not have coverage to help pay their medical bills.

Early Tuesday, the federal government opened an Internet web site providing information on how uninsured people could buy insurance. The site was initially overwhelmed by so many visitors that many received an error message, but the problem later appeared to be fixed.

The new insurance policies are part of U.S. President Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement, the 2010 passage of wide-ranging health care reforms that are the country's most ambitious in nearly 50 years. They are partly aimed at offering to sell medical insurance to 30 million or more uninsured people in the country, but also requiring anyone without coverage to pay a fine if they choose not to buy it.

The reforms are widely known in the U.S. as Obamacare, and remain as controversial as when they were approved solely by Obama's Democratic supporters in Congress over the staunch opposition of his Republican opponents. The law is at the center of the current government funding stalemate that Tuesday forced a partial shutdown of federal agencies for the first time in 17 years.

How The Shutdown is Affecting Services

  • About 800,000 federal workers furloughed
  • The military's 1.4 million active-duty personnel remain on duty, their paychecks delayed
  • NASA is furloughing almost all its employees
  • Air traffic controllers and screeners staying on the job
  • Federal courts continue to operate
  • Mail deliveries continue since U.S. Postal Service is not funded by tax dollars
  • Most Homeland Security employees continue to work
  • Most veterans' services continue because they are funded in advance
  • National Parks and Smithsonian museums closing
Numerous Republican lawmakers are seeking to end funding for the reforms, or at least delay full implementation of the law. The insurance offered by private companies through state-by-state exchanges would take effect in January, but several other reforms have been in place since Obama signed the legislation into law.

As the threat of a government shutdown neared reality Monday, Obama told Republicans they would not be able to halt the law.

"The Affordable Care Act is moving forward. That funding is already in place. You can’t shut it down," said the president.

Obama was was scheduled to talk later Tuesday about the start of the insurance sales, and to meet with people looking to buy health care coverage.
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