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Obama spotlights healthcare launch as Republicans try to block it

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press about the government shutdown in the briefing room of the White House in Washingt
U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement to the press about the government shutdown in the briefing room of the White House in Washingt

By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama spotlighted the opening day of sign-up for his landmark healthcare program on Tuesday, noting that it is taking place although Republicans in the U.S. Congress have shut down the government because they oppose the law.

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

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

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

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

Obama said such stumbles would not derail full implementation of the healthcare law. He likened the snags on the online exchange to the bugs that commonly plague the rollout of other technology-dependent products.

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

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

Unexpectedly high internet traffic volumes generated delays in the operation of the online marketplaces for health insurance. The Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement saying more than 1 million people had visited the website, HealthCare.gov, in the past day, leading to a five-fold increase in Tuesday's volume.

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

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

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

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

Still, for many Republicans, trying to foil the implementation of the law, which was signed in 2010, is a top priority.

The Republican-led House of Representatives sought to make delaying or defunding all or part of the law a condition for approving government spending for the fiscal year that began on Tuesday. Obama and his fellow Democrats refused to accept those conditions, and the impasse resulted in the government shutdown.

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

Obamacare kicks into the critical phase of sign-up for health insurance through on-line exchanges that allow individuals to shop for policies that suit their needs and pocketbooks.

The success of the exchanges depends on attracting a large contingent of healthy young adults to keep coverage costs low and the Obama administration has focused much of its publicity on appealing to that demographic. It is accelerating its push as the 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 Valerie Jarrett and other administration officials will do interviews with radio stations reaching largely African-American audiences, the White House said.

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

While they seek to gut the healthcare law as a condition for passing federal budget legislation to keep the government funded, they have threatened to do the same to a bill raising the borrowing limit on the $16.7 trillion the national debt.

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

(Reporting By Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Ken Wills and Christopher Wilson)

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