The overpowering electronic hiss of the health care debate has been so angry, so full of hyperbole and distortion and so constant ever since the federal Affordable Care Act was proposed that it is easy to understand why so many Americans have paid little attention to the practical applications of the new law.
As of today, like it or not, that must change.
Not that the political debate over so-called Obamacare will or should grow silent. Steadfast opponents of the program are not going to let that happen under any circumstances for the foreseeable future. But while the politics of the ACA rage, the practical dimensions of the law are taking shape. Angry political debate or no, they demand attention.
Fortunately, they also have the benefit of time. Individuals who do not have adequate health insurance through their workplace can start signing up today for exchanges that provide coverage in Illinois, as elsewhere around the country. But that is a beginning point, not a deadline. Unfortunately, the practical options -- like much about this legislation -- have been slow in coming. But they're arriving at last, and as they do, it is wise to consider the approach employed by business owner Dianna Kingery of Lake Zurich.
"There are a lot of what-ifs," Kingery told the Daily Herald's Jamie Sotonoff for a story Sunday. "I'm going to be reading the fine print carefully, making sure I'm comparing apples to apples. Boy, I hope people go into this with eyes open."
If your eyes aren't open yet, you have until next March to get them that way -- sooner, Dec. 15, if you want coverage to begin as early as Jan. 1.
You can start at www.getcoveredillinois.gov. That's the website for the official Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace, where you can survey a range of health insurance options and select a plan that works for you, your family and your budget,
The website, as well as both a toll-free telephone number (866-311-1119) and on-site locations throughout the state for people who want a direct person-to-person contact, are all part of a multi-million-dollar information campaign launched in Illinois to help people understand and identify the options that will be best for them.
With the onslaught of publicity this week, you may feel pressured to act quickly or so overwhelmed that you do not act at all. Those are your two worst responses.
Despite the determination of Obamacare critics, it is much more likely that this program will undergo periodic revisions rather than face a systemic overhaul. Indeed at some point, it seems even political leaders will do citizens a greater favor by helping them adapt to a program established to address health care shortcomings condemned as untenable from nearly all political corners rather than endlessly work against all odds and a substantial body of support to undermine it.
Get Covered Illinois aims to do that. Its objective is not to promote the Affordable Care Act but to help citizens apply it. To that end, it has trained and put in place thousands of staff members whose job is to help each Illinois resident find and acquire the health insurance coverage that is right for his or her situation.
How well that bureaucracy will function may be anybody's guess. Illinois doesn't have a reputation for customer service, and any program of this magnitude will surely experience technical problems or confront unexpected circumstances -- as we've also seen from the federal government in the rollout of this massive undertaking.
But provisions are in place. Deadlines will be arriving. You don't have to panic, but you should be paying attention. Political battles appear all but certain to continue for months, perhaps even years. But we all have practical considerations to face now, and today's the day to begin concentrating on them.