Affordable Care Act takes full effect

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WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama's health care law took full effect nationwide on Wednesday.

Millions of Americans will now have health care coverage, and those that already had it will see new consumer protections and benefits.

But implementation of the Affordable Care Act is not without controversy. Hours before a requirement about contraception coverage went into effect, a Supreme Court justice stepped in and temporarily blocked it.

Nearly four years after Obama signed the controversial health care bill into law, the whole thing goes into effect.

"And this is a new day in health care for millions of Americans," said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

There have been major technical glitches and delays in the program.

Now, millions more Americans will now be able to get health care coverage. The Obama administration said that more than 2.1 million people have signed up since Oct. 1 for plans that go into effect Wednesday.

"The health insurance plans offered through the marketplace are quality, comprehensive, private plans," said Sebelius.

Health insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions. They're also no longer allowed to put a lifetime cap on the dollar amount they pay out.

Also starting Wednesday, every health insurance plan sold in the United States must cover essentials, like doctor visits and prescription drugs.

Tuesday night, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor kicked off 2014 in New York's Times Square. But just hours before that, she temporarily blocked an Affordable Care Act requirement about birth control at the request of an organization of Catholic nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor.

The requirement forces some religious groups to provide contraception in their health care plans, but the Obama administration already set up an out for churches and other religious groups -- for them, the insurance companies would pay that part of the coverage.

On Wednesday, White House officials insisted the health care plan used by the Little Sisters of the Poor organization is not even subject to the contraception rules, because of those exemptions.