Week ahead: ObamaCare’s biggest deadline arrives

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Tuesday is Oct. 1 — the long-awaited date to launch new insurance marketplaces, known as exchanges, in every state. President Obama and his administration have said time and time again that the exchanges will be ready, and Tuesday will be the test.

It’s not expected to be a huge day for actual enrollment in the exchanges. The administration and its allies have ramped up their outreach campaign, but Tuesday is better seen as the beginning of an enrollment marathon than as a one-day event. 

It will be a critical test of how well the exchanges function. Are the websites up and running? Are the state exchanges able to process applications and successfully draw information from myriad federal databases? Are the people who do show up to buy coverage on Day One able to get through?

Obama has made clear he expects some technical glitches as the law launches, and he is correct to say that every major program has had its fair share of bumps along the road. 

Some delays — most of them relatively minor — have already been announced, and there will surely be more.

That won’t stop the law’s critics from trumpeting every problem they can find to argue that the law is a “train wreck.” Severe or long-lasting glitches could turn some consumers off from the new marketplaces, and that could affect the law’s long-term prospects.

Congress’s healthcare agenda next week is mostly focused on the exchanges’ launch, as well as the continuing battle over GOP efforts to defund, delay or otherwise change the healthcare law in exchange for keeping the federal government open or raising the country’s debt limit.

ObamaCare advocates have several events planned on Tuesday to highlight the new coverage options available through the exchanges, including a Capitol Hill press conference with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and the Democratic lawmakers who helped push the law across the finish line.

A handful of smaller healthcare items are also on lawmakers’ agenda. The Senate Health Committee has scheduled an executive session Wednesday to consider several health-related measures. 

And the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health panel is holding a hearing Thursday on how the Food and Drug Administration has implemented new authorities it received last year.