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'I Can Go Wherever I Want Now'

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Salim Zymet/HHS
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Federal health officials, trying to change public opinion about the Affordable Care Act, have released a new video that stars a young metal sculptor from Pensacola.

James Jackson, 30, seems almost too good to be true, as if sent over from Central Casting. Bearded, handsome, he strides through the video doing manly things like hiking and hunting and welding. He doesn't even have any flab.

But he's the real deal, not an actor, as Health News Florida discovered through phone and e-mail interviews. Jackson, 34, laughed when asked whether he was paid to do the video.

"No, it was completely voluntary," he says.

He volunteered to do the video to let others know it's a good idea to check out what offers, he said. In his case, it's an Aetna plan that costs less than $100 a month after tax credits.

Jackson says that he worked full-time as an accountant for three years in order to get the health benefits, even though what he really wanted was to spend time in his metal fabrication shop, doing what he really loves. When he finally quit to do what he loved, he said, he couldn't get insurance because he had diabetes -- Type 1, diagnosed before he started school.

"The Affordable Care Act is allowing me to pursue my dreams, rather than be chained to an employer for the benefits," he says in the video. "I can go wherever I want now."

Living without insurance isn't a good idea for anyone, Jackson says. "You can be bankrupted by someone else not paying attention on the road.".

The Department of Health and Human Services is sending out press releases and links to videos like the one about Jackson in an effort to inspire positive media coverage of the Affordable Care Act.

A new report from theKaiser Family Foundation shows how badly the law needs good PR. A survey among the  uninsured found that a majority were uninformed about the law.

Most knew that it requires them to get health insurance this year or pay a penalty, the Washington Postreports. But most didn't know about the tax credits, which create sliding-scale subsidies to help low- and
middle-income families pay premiums.

They didn't even know that the law prohibits insurers from turning them away if they have health risks.

Opponents of the law have been so effective in dampening public opinion in recent  months -- helped by the botched rollout of the website -- that those giving the law a negative review outnumbered the positives two to one.

Jackson said he hopes that his video can help turn public opinion around. "Being without health insurance was terrifying,"  he said.  Having it now, he said, "is one of the most relieving things ever."

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.