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When Kristen Hodges quit her job as a high school Russian teacher in Washington, D.C., to care for her ailing mother in Utah in January, one of the things she gave up was health insurance.

Since then Hodges keeps her fingers crossed when her 9-month-old daughter Ksenia gets the sniffles, and winces every few months when she refills a pair of expensive prescriptions for her husband, Blair. Without health coverage, the cost totals around $400 — a lot of money for a family surviving on an income of about $28,000.

"The primary concern is for the baby" says Hodges, 31, whose husband works part-time at Brigham Young University and doesn't qualify for insurance benefits. "If it was just the two of us, it wouldn't be such a daunting idea, not being covered."

The family saves on some costs by sharing a home with Hodges' mother, who suffers from the neurodegenerative condition known as Lou Gehrig's Disease and needs full-time care. They're also saving on child care expenses.

But health insurance remains out of reach, and Kristen Hodges now wants to know how implementation of the Affordable Care Act in January will help her family. She'll bring her questions — Will they qualify for Medicaid? What about a tax credit for private insurance? — to a Thursday night health care town hall meeting at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on the University of Utah campus. The forum is free and open to the public.

Sponsored by KUTV and The Salt Lake Tribune, the program aims to help answer Utahns' questions about the health care reform law and features a panel of health care advocates, experts and state policy leaders.

The program, hosted by KUTV's Rod Decker, will be broadcast live at 6:30 p.m. and will stream live on the KUTV and Tribune websites.

Passed by Congress in 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires nearly all Americans to have health insurance, either through public programs like Medicaid or through private insurance, by 2014 or face a tax penalty.

The law allows for expanded Medicaid eligibility so more low-income citizens and legal residents can qualify. Utah Republican lawmakers oppose expansion, so the state has not yet decided what it will do. A task force is studying expansion options and is expected to present Gov. Gary Herbert with alternatives in September.

The ACA also sets up an online health insurance marketplace, sometimes called an exchange, where individuals and small businesses can shop for and purchase private insurance. Utah will have two exchanges — a federally run marketplace for individual consumers and Avenue H, a state-run exchange for small businesses. The exchanges open for enrollment on Oct. 1, and based on income, some Utahns will qualify for federal tax credits to help them buy insurance.

Under the law, business owners with 50 or more employees would also have to provide insurance or face a penalty.

The details of the ACA can be hard to follow, said Hodges. She's hoping the Thursday forum will help her understand what options her family will have in 2014, even if that means forgoing insurance and paying a penalty.

"It's a lot to take in … a lot of people are a little confused," said Hodges, who is still hoping her husband will find a full-time job with benefits. "But I'm happy that changes in health care coverage are progressing. I support it."

Health care Town hall

When • Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

Where • Event at U.'s Hinckley Institute of Politics, hosted by KUTV's Rod Decker, is open to the public.

TV • Live on KUTV Ch. 2

Online • Watch the live stream. > or