The rollout of the Affordable Care Act is certain to be hotly debated in the coming midterm elections. But area academics recently joined forces with researchers across the country to initiate an ongoing assessment of the implementation of the law in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Think of this first installment, a new 300 page report by researchers at Penn on the first two months of the ACA rollout in Pennsylvania, as the "baseline." That's according to Joe Tierney, an adviser on the project. He said the point is to create a foundation, what the ACA looked like in Pennsylvania when it launched, "upon which we can measure the progress of the implementation" over time.

The report, for example, reviewed consumer education and outreach efforts, physician networks and the number and costs of plans across the state at the onset of the new marketplace in October. It breaks such details down by region, and reveals some dramatic geographical variations in aspects of the rollout. For example, more than 100 groups around Philadelphia were offering assistance to people in signing up for coverage, compared with just one group in Erie.

The report is part of a broader effort with the Rockefeller Institute. It includes field researchers in 31 states, all aiming to document the implementation of the ACA -- and the changes it may bring about in government and the private sector -- over many years. 

The group expects to have another update this spring.