They shut down the federal government Tuesday to stop Obamacare. But Tuesday, Obamacare started.

Or, to be more precise, Tuesday was the roll-out of a key part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as the controversial statute is formally known. It was the first day that individuals could go online to search through the many different coverage options that are now available for those who previously went without health insurance, or who were paying too much for too little, It's about time.

The online exchanges get their funding directly from the ACA law, and so are, ironically, beyond the reach of the decision by a rump faction of Congress to stop paying for many federal operations until they can delay or kill Obamacare,

There are large amounts of promise and peril in this brave new world of health coverage. The promise is that by giving individuals a wide variety of choices as to what provider they might buy from and what level of coverage they might be able to pay for, a newly competitive marketplace will push the quality of coverage up and the cost down.

This reliance on private insurers, at the core of the Obamacare drive to insure the uninsured, is also why those who refer to the ACA as "socialism" or a "government take-over of health care" are either lying or have no idea what they are talking about.

The peril is that by giving individuals a wide variety of choices as to what provider they might buy from and what level of coverage they might be able to pay for, a complex decision-making process will frighten off both those who would most benefit from the exchanges and those who continue to believe they have no need for insurance.

But everyone needs insurance. The chances that even "the young immortals," as those who opt out are called, will fall ill or become injured are great enough, and the inevitable cost-shifting onto taxpayers serious enough, that any person who shirks this duty is not exercising freedom, but displaying a lack of personal responsibility.

This individual mandate, so loathed by many on the right, began as a conservative, Republican, Heritage Foundation idea. And it is key to keeping insurance companies in the mix, rather than dumping them all for a taxpayer-funded single-payer system.

The administration and a brigade of human service organizations will be working to help people through the maze that is, admittedly, Obamacare.

--The Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 1