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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.

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"That’s one of the things that bothers me, another big federal plan. I don’t like that," she said. "I agree uninsured people need a place to get help but I’m not sure it is the government’s place to give that to us."

Velasquez is rearing her four children and she tends a few others to make some money, while her husband, Serge, looks for work. He used to assemble computer chips and now he’s training to be a bus driver in the Alpine School District. Even if he gets a route, it won’t come with health insurance right away.

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Their kids are covered through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, but Tammi and Serge Velasquez have been uninsured since 2010. They have had health insurance for only one year out of the last 12.

When the Affordable Care Act’s open-enrollment period began Oct. 1, Tammi Velasquez tried to see what she qualified for, thinking: "It would be nice to be able to say, ‘Oh, this is going wrong, we can go to the doctor. We don’t have to just live with it.’ "

But the site didn’t work.

She didn’t look into it further until a woman in her Mormon congregation suggested inviting an expert to speak to the Relief Society. As president of the Relief Society in her ward, Velasquez thought it was a good idea. She did a little Internet searching and found Jason Stevenson with the Utah Health Policy Project.

The project is paid by the federal government to help people sign up for insurance through the new marketplaces, and Stevenson has given more than 80 presentations on the complicated program. He met about 30 women from her LDS ward at a church in Orem on Nov. 19 and spent an hour going through slides explaining what the law does and how it is intended to work.

Stevenson explained that only people who are uninsured or who buy their own plans on the individual market need to check out the online marketplace. Some will get federal subsidies to help pay for the insurance and those on the lower end of the income scale may eventually qualify for an expanded version of Medicaid. Herbert is still deciding whether to expand that program in Utah.

Velasquez may be among those eligible for expanded Medicaid, but at this stage her plan is to keep trying healthcare.gov until she can get through and see what she can apply for.

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Filling the void » The federal government intended to spend heavily to promote healthcare.gov, but has had to sit on that money since it doesn’t make much sense to encourage people to visit a glitchy website. That means there’s been no federal effort to encourage Utahns to enroll.

"There is a hunger for real accurate information," Stevenson said. "The public relations or the education side of the Affordable Care Act has been a disaster."

In the absence of a major federal campaign, outside groups have tried innovative ways to encourage or dissuade people from signing up.

The Colorado Consumer Health Initiative has received national attention for provocative online ads featuring college men doing a keg stand, where two of them hold another man’s legs in the air as he drinks beer directly from a keg. In another, a woman holds birth control in one hand and has her other arm wrapped around an attractive guy. Both ads include the catchphrase "Got insurance?"

"We were really looking at trying to fill a void in reaching young adults," said Adam Fox, who works for the Colorado group. "They are really important to the stabilization of health-insurance premiums and the marketplaces overall."

At the other end of the spectrum is FreedomWorks, a tea party group, which has urged young people to "burn your Obamacare card," a play on those who burned their Vietnam draft cards in the late 1960s.

"For a lot of young people, it’s a really raw deal. You’re going to overpay and essentially buy something that you don’t need and can’t afford," said Matt Kibbe, FreedomWorks president.

Will Jergins, 23, counts himself in that group, which is why he set up a display outside of the Electronic Learning Center in the heart of Southern Utah University on Halloween. For four hours he provided fake Obamacare cards for students to burn and he distributed "opt out" stickers and fliers, provided by Generation Opportunity, another conservative group trying to persuade young Americans to rebuff the health law.

Since he’s under 26, Jergins could be covered through his parents’ insurance but he refuses. And he won’t buy a plan through Obamacare, a decision he says is part politics, part economics.

"I don’t think people should have to buy health insurance if it is not right for them or if they can’t afford it," said Jergins, the SUU chapter president of Young Americans for Liberty.

Jergins’ mother wishes he would drop the protest and get covered.

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