UNITES STATES - Hospitals and medical practices across the United States braced for confusion and administrative hassles as new insurance plans under President Barack Obama's healthcare law took effect on Wednesday.
More than 2 million people enrolled in private plans offered under the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, during the initial sign-up period for health benefits. Enrollment began in October and lasts through March, but Americans in most states had to enroll by last week to get coverage that takes effect with the start of the new year.
A spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, said there were no hiccups to report in the first day the plans were in effect.
The expansion of coverage through the new plans is one of the main parts of the 2010 law, the most sweeping US social legislation in 50 years. Over time, the law - which requires most Americans to buy insurance, offers subsidies to help low-income people get covered and sets minimum standards for coverage - aims to dramatically reduce the number of Americans who lack health insurance, which the US government has estimated at more than 45 million.
After a difficult October launch plagued by problems with the website used to enroll people in coverage, the focus for the government and healthcare providers has turned to what will happen beginning on Wednesday when patients with the new coverage start to seek care.
The law still faces political and legal hurdles. Roman Catholic Church-affiliated organisations obtained last-minute court injunctions on Tuesday that gave them temporary exemptions from a part of the healthcare law that requires employers to provide insurance policies covering contraception.
US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted one temporary injunction to Baltimore-based Little Sisters of the Poor and Illinois-based Christian Brothers Services, plus related entities.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had 10,000 agents on call for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day to field questions from people dealing with enrollment problems.
"We are ready ourselves to assist consumers as well with our full complement of call centre representatives available," said Julie Bataille, spokeswoman for the CMS.