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US Starts Offering to Sell Health Insurance to the Uninsured

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks alongside Americans the White House says will benefit from the opening of health insurance marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act, at the White House, Washington, Oct. 1, 2013.
The U.S. has started offering 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 the uninsured could buy insurance. President Barack Obama said more than one million people initially overwhelmed the site. Many of them received an error message, but the problem later appeared to be fixed.

Obama spoke at the White House about the law, accompanied by several citizens he said are looking for insurance after being denied coverage in the past, or were unable to afford it.

"For the 15 percent of Americans who don't have health insurance, this opportunity is life-changing," he said.

The new insurance policies are part of 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. The changes offer to sell medical insurance to 30 million or more uninsured people in the country, but also require 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 funding stalemate that Tuesday forced a partial shutdown of federal agencies for the first time in 17 years.

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," he said. "That funding is already in place. You can’t shut it down."

However Republicans continue to try.