By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's plan to extend private health coverage to the uninsured entered a new uncertain phase on Saturday as U.S. government-backed online insurance marketplaces opened their 2015 plans to millions of potential enrollees.
The HealthCare.gov website relaunched with little fanfare and appeared to work smoothly early on Saturday with no sign of the technical glitches that paralyzed the operation a year ago and drove Democrat Obama's signature domestic policy to the brink of disaster, exposing him to criticism from Republicans who have campaigned for its repeal.
Obama used his weekly address to pitch Obamacare's selling points: subsidized premiums, guaranteed access for the sick and free preventive services. A new government outreach campaign also kicked off with online promotions and over 200 weekend enrollment events.
Lower-income adults who are young, black or Hispanic remain a key audience, because large numbers lack health insurance.
Officials, who have concentrated on producing a smooth experience for consumers, phased in the operation by allowing people to window shop for plans during the week leading up to Saturday.
But the administration is also hedging its bets by acknowledging potential problems, such as outages, as traffic to the site swells. Officials greatly reduced their overall 2015 target to 9.1 million enrollees from 13 million.
The 2010 law known as Obamacare is intended to extend health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans in all 50 states and to expand the Medicaid program for the poor that has taken hold in 27 states.
A new Republican majority in Congress in January is committed to repealing or dismantling the healthcare law. The U.S. Supreme Court will also hear a new legal challenge that could end federal subsidies for low-income families through a federal marketplace that spans three-dozen states.
There are concerns that consumers in some of the 14 states that operate their own Obamacare marketplaces could have trouble again. Maryland, a state that was plagued by issues for months, is staggering its opening with enrollment beginning Nov. 19.
The Nov. 15-Feb. 15 open enrollment period allows qualified Americans to obtain private health coverage for 2015, often with federally subsidized premiums.
A main question is whether HealthCare.gov can handle new enrollees and renewals simultaneously. Nearly 6 million current policy holders are expected to re-enroll, and many may avoid automatic renewal by shopping and enrolling in different plans.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by John Whitesides and Stephen Powell)