Washington: A key stage of President Barack Obama's drive to offer cheaper health insurance to millions of Americans began Tuesday, despite a government shutdown over Republican opposition to the plan.
Known widely as "Obamacare," the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2010, on the promise of helping 30 million uninsured people get health care coverage.
Despite its ambitions to revolutionize American health care, the plan is not free and will not be able to cover all 57 million people in America who lack full insurance coverage for health care.
Advocates have touted it as a major step forward, while opponents like Republican House speaker John Boehner have insisted the plan "is not ready for prime-time."
New health insurance exchanges were to begin enrolling people today via the website healthcare.Gov, where consumers could browse the options available for private insurance starting next year.
However, some users on Twitter reported technical difficulties with the website, and an attempt to check the prices offered in Virginia resulted in the message: "Important: Your account couldnt [sic] be created at this time. The system is unavailable."
US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had pleaded for patience in the run-up to October 1.
She expressed the hope that consumers would give the government "the same slack as they give Apple" when the computer giant releases new technologies.
"Today's launch begins a new day when health care coverage will be more accessible and affordable than ever before," Sebelius said in a statement issued today.
About seven million Americans are expected to seek coverage by 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The policies available on the health exchanges range in price according to a person's income, location, family size and the level of coverage on a scale of bronze, silver, gold or platinum.
All Americans must sign up for some kind of health insurance by January 1 or face a fine.
The government said last week there will be around 53 plans to choose from in the federally-facilitated marketplace.
"The vast majority will have a choice of at least two different health insurance companies -- usually more," said a statement from Health and Human Services.