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Washington (AFP) – A key stage of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law hit a stumbling block Tuesday when millions of people flocked to browse online insurance but were frustrated by technical glitches.

The launch of healthcare.gov went ahead despite a U.S. government shutdown incited by Republicans opposed to the law, and Obama vowed that six in 10 people could find insurance there for less than $100 per month.

But many of the 2.8 million users the government reported having counted for the day were blocked from entering the site due to heavy traffic.

“With any new product launch, there are going to be glitches as things unfold,” said Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“We certainly had a high volume of consumers creating accounts this morning,” she told reporters. “We added capacity, and made some adjustments to the system to handle that.”

She declined to specify how many people had signed up on the first day of what is to be a six month process, saying only: “We can confirm that people have enrolled.”

Known widely as “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress and signed by Obama in 2010, with a promise to help over 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 tens of millions of people in America who lack full insurance.

Advocates have touted it as a major step toward universal health care, while opponents like Republican House speaker John Boehner have insisted the law “is not ready for prime-time.”

System overload

Indeed, for much of Tuesday, the new health insurance exchanges that were to begin enrolling people via the website healthcare.gov were jammed.

Frustrated users flocked to Twitter to complain that healthcare.gov and others linked to the exchanges were not working.

An attempt by an AFP reporter to check prices offered in Virginia resulted in the message: “Important: Your account couldnt [sic] be created at this time. The system is unavailable.”

The NY State of Health site said that “overwhelming interest” had led to two million visits in the first two hours of the launch, and asked people to come back later if they had been unable to log in.

“Today is launch day for Obamacare and so far it’s like a giant online traffic jam on the first day of summer vacation,” said independent technology analyst Jeff Kagan.

“No one knew what to expect, but chaos is what we have.”

Obama said the main website had been slowed because more than one million people visited before 7:00 am (1100 GMT) alone.

“There were five times more users in the marketplace this morning than have ever been on Medicare.gov at one time. That gives you a sense of how important this is,” Obama said outside the White House, flanked by a handful of citizens who would benefit from the reform.

“We are going to be speeding things up in the next few hours to handle this demand that exceeds anything we expected.”

About seven million Americans are expected to seek coverage by 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

By the numbers

The policies available on the health exchanges range in price according to a person’s income, location, family size and the level of coverage desired 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 there would be an average of 53 plans to choose from in the federally-facilitated marketplace.

Most Americans have health insurance — 82.6 percent according a July report from the Department of Commerce based on data from the 2010 Census.

About half get it through their employer, and about 30 percent are enrolled in government programs like Medicare, mainly for seniors, and Medicaid, which covers the poor and disabled.

That leaves 17.4 percent of Americans with no health insurance whatsoever, or about 53 million people.

An analysis in the journal Health Affairs earlier this year projected that around 30 million Americans will still not get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

Those gaps are due in part to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow some states to opt out of expanding Medicaid programs, coupled with a cut in funding to safety-net hospitals.

“The ACA, whatever its merits, will fall well short of its stated goal of providing affordable care for all Americans.”

Photo Credit: AFP/Karen Bleier

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.