FREEHOLD, N.J. -- FREEHOLD, N.J. (AP) — Supporters held rallies to encourage people to sign up, phones rang steadily in support centers and politicians continued to debate the policy behind it as New Jersey's online health insurance exchange opened Tuesday.
The marketplace is a key part of President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul, designed to provide coverage for those who lack it, including many of the roughly 1.3 million uninsured New Jersey residents.
The exchanges opened across the country Tuesday, allowing people to begin signing up for coverage that becomes available Jan. 1. Users making up to four times the poverty line — that's $94,000 annually for a family of four — can also be eligible for federal subsidies.
There were no reports of calamitous glitches or long lines at resource centers or major protests in New Jersey, one of 36 states where the federal government is running the exchange.
At the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, which has a federal "navigator" grant to help people learn about their new insurance options, outreach specialist Bianca Gines said the phone was ringing steadily all morning with requests for help and information. "A lot of people are curious to see what they qualify for," she said.
But when she went to St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Freehold to do in-person outreach in the afternoon, she found no one had made appointments for assistance on the first day.
Justine Ceserano, New Jersey director of Enroll America, a nonprofit group trying to get people registered on the exchanges, said she had not heard of any serious glitches on the website for New Jersey users by mid-afternoon, though some problems had been reported across the country. "We know there's an awful lot activity on the website," Ceserano said. "We know that there's a lot of interest."
According to a federal report released last week, the premiums in New Jersey — even before subsidies — would be lower than what is now available for private coverage.
A political battle in Congress over the insurance overhaul led to a shutdown of many functions of the federal government Tuesday, and that fight became a theme of the day in the special U.S. Senate election.
On the campaign trail in Berkeley Township on Tuesday, Republican candidate Steve Lonegan said the Oct. 16 special Senate election will be a referendum on health care.
The conservative Republican applauded House Republicans for "holding the line" by refusing to fund the new health care law.
His Democratic opponent, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, circulated a petition urging Congress to end the shutdown by funding the health care law. Booker said the health care overhaul expands health insurance access to millions of Americans.
Lonegan called the program a government intrusion. Texas Gov. Rick Perry was campaigning with Lonegan throughout the day.
AP reporters David Porter in Paterson and Angela Delli Santi in Berkeley Township contributed to this article.