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Patients become participants in their health care decisions

Choices … empowerment … health care.

These words hold potential terror, especially when they’re taken together.

But they don’t have to. A few things to bear in mind as the most far-reaching provisions of Obamacare become reality Tuesday:

•If you and your family are covered by an employer’s health plan, or Medicare, or Medicaid, you don’t have to do anything.

•If you are not covered, this is your opportunity to obtain health insurance at a more affordable rate. Indeed, you are obligated to select a plan and sign up, though the penalty for not signing up is, at least this year, just 1 percent of your income.

•Employers no longer may exclude you for a pre-existing condition.

•In northeast Indiana, there are four health care exchanges to choose from, and different levels of coverage are available from each one. Some may exclude providers or specialists that are important to you. So study the plans carefully.

You can do that on your own at Or you can get someone to talk you through it, 24/7, at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 800-318-2596. Or, as our Washington editor Brian Francisco reported Sunday, there are local nonprofit agencies that will be happy to help you select coverage and fill out your application. See our guide to enrollment assistance resources at

Some of us remember when doctors made house calls and the patient’s role was to take the medicine the doctor prescribed or roll up a sleeve for a shot. One worried about health care bills in those days, but only in the same way that you worried about, say, food or rent or groceries.

Call it the Era of Health-Care Complacency.

Even before Obamacare’s historic debut Tuesday, that era was long past. Doctors don’t make house calls, but you might seek help for a cut or an infection at a fast-treatment clinic or peruse a menu of immunity shots at your drugstore. On every front, you, the patient, are encouraged to be a participant in the choices about your treatment and, now, your health care plan.

It can be scary. But it doesn’t have to be if you ask for help.