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| Courtesy William Jergins spent four hours on Halloween trying to convince Southern Utah University students to stand against the Affordable Care Act and instead of buying insurance, pay the $95 tax fine.
Young, skeptics key to Obamacare success — or failure
Utah health care » In Beehive State, some will pay fine as a form of protest, while others will explore their options.
First Published Nov 30 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Dec 09 2013 02:45 pm

Washington » The reason Brandon Beckham doesn’t have health insurance is that he doesn’t want health insurance — and he isn’t going to let the Affordable Care Act force him to buy coverage.

Beckham, who owns a video-production business in Orem, will instead pay the tax penalty — $95 in 2014 — his way to protest a law he says violates his rights.

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Tammi Velasquez, who lives in the same city, isn’t a fan of the health reform law either, but she’s enticed by the prospect of having stable insurance for the first time in a long time.

"I guess there is some conflict there, but if we don’t get it, we are going to be fined," she said. "We better go on and see what we qualify for."

How skeptics of the law known as Obamacare respond to this open-enrollment period will go a long way toward determining if the reforms succeed or fail. The White House hopes there are far more Tammis than Brandons.

Early enrollment numbers were dismal in part because of the persistent technical problems plaguing healthcare.gov, the site where people from 36 states, including Utah, can shop for coverage if they are not insured through their job or a government program such as Medicaid or Medicare.

The administration is scrambling to improve the website, which can now accommodate about 25,000 people at a given time, but that’s a meager amount when the goal is signing up some 40 million people by the end of March.

On top of the technical challenges, outside groups are spending big to discourage people, particularly the young and healthy, from signing up.

If they succeed and only older and sicker people buy coverage, it could lead to a spike in insurance prices, which would then scare away more people, which in turn would lead to another spike in prices. It’s called a death spiral.

There are parts of the law that protect insurance companies from shortfalls in the next few years, guaranteeing an infusion of federal cash, but that is a stopgap measure. Obamacare’s supporters and detractors agree that for the law to function, almost everyone has to buy in. Even those who think it is a lousy program.

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A personal choice » The White House believes most people won’t be swayed by political arguments.

"When you are talking about something as important as health care, the vast majority of Americans are going to put aside politics and make a decision that is in the best interest of their family," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. "What we are trying to do is provide options to people who don’t currently have health insurance and provide them high-quality health insurance in a way that they can actually afford for the first time."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, no fan of the health law, agrees with Earnest’s premise, even if he is not so sure the coverage will be affordable.

"The consumer will make a decision on the set of facts they see at hand," he said. "Citizens will do what they think is in their own best interests."

Beckham, who is in his late 30s, says his political views match his best interests. He hasn’t visited a doctor in a decade. Instead he eats right, exercises and takes natural remedies.

"I’m healthy. I handle my own health issues with my own method, through my own expense," he said, "For the government to basically insert itself between me and my right to handle my own health is a clear violation of the proper role of government."

Beckham, an active Republican, believes Obamacare won’t survive another year in its current state. He predicts the disastrous rollout will lead to cascading problems that will make it politically untenable for Democrats to support the law as the key midterm elections approach next November.

Democrats in the White House and Congress promise that once people sign up, the political fervor against the law will subside, making it a political advantage rather than a liability. Right now, it is clearly a liability. A new poll by CBS News found a whopping 61 percent of respondents disapproving of the law.

Seeking details » Velasquez is among that 61 percent. She said the goal of expanding coverage is good, but she didn’t like the way the law was passed with only Democrats supporting it. She also wishes states played a larger role.

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