The White House says the U.S. President will still travel to Indonesia and Brunei, but is calling off the final two stops in Malaysia and the Philippines.
Americans got their first chance on Tuesday to shop for health insurance using the online marketplaces that are at the centre of President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul, even as the President cancelled two stops on his long-planned trip to Asia because of a partial government shutdown.
The years-long battle over the biggest expansion in coverage in nearly five decades culminated in the shutdown of the federal government that also began on Tuesday.
Government websites designed to sell the policies struggled to handle the surge of traffic, with many frustrated users reporting trouble setting up accounts.
State and federal agencies were working to fix the sites. There should be time to make improvements — the open-enrolment period lasts for six months for the coverage that starts on January 1.
By Tuesday afternoon, at least 2.8 million people had visited the healthcare.gov website, according to officials overseeing the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
But at most only a handful of people had been able to successfully enroll online, according to two industry officials. The number of those enrolled is expected grow as technicians tackle and resolve glitches.
Mr. Obama called it a “historic day” for uninsured Americans. Republicans vehemently oppose the law, especially a mandate that all Americans have healthcare insurance or face tax penalties. The law provides subsidies to help lower-income people pay for the plans.
The federal government’s shutdown will have no immediate effect on the insurance marketplaces that are the backbone of the law, because they operate with money that isn’t subject to the annual budget wrangling in Washington.
The Obama administration hopes to sign up seven million people during the first year and aims to eventually sign up at least half of the nearly 50 million uninsured Americans.
Mr. Obama is scheduled to leave on Saturday night for what was originally a four-nation tour. But the White House on Wednesday called off the final two stops in Malaysia and the Philippines and is re-evaluating the stops in Indonesia and Brunei.
The White House said Mr. Obama called Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday to inform them of his change in plans and commit to travelling to both countries later in his term.
Also on Wednesday, Mr. Obama summoned congressional lawmakers to the White House for a meeting.
Lawmakers from both parties suggested the impasse could last for weeks and grow to encompass a dangerous fight over the U.S. borrowing limit soon.