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It's probably not the first time that Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has been chastised for his strong-arm tactics to defund the Affordable Care Act.

But when the tongue-lashing comes from someone like Angie Welling — an accomplished public relations professional and Republican Gov. Gary Herbert's former spokeswoman — people listen.

In an open letter to Lee published Tuesday on the online political newsletter, Welling takes the senator and "his ilk" to task for acting like "schoolyard bullies" and their "Stop Obamacare at All Costs mantra," which she says "is hurting real people" like her mom.

A cancer survivor and long-time member of the working class, Welling's mom, Beckie Clarkson, has been uninsured off and on over the past 16 years, because her cancer, or pre-existing condition, has prevented her from obtaining comprehensive coverage.

"About once a week, Mom wakes up in the middle of the night, choking and gagging. She usually spends the rest of the night vomiting, and the entire next day recuperating. She thinks she has something called a hiatal hernia, but isn't sure because the diagnostic tests are too expensive," wrote Welling, previously a reporter for the LDS-Church-owned Deseret News and a registered Republican.

"Today, God willing, Mom will sign up for health insurance on the federal health exchange. She will finally have coverage. That is, if you and your group of obstructionist legislators don't ultimately get your way. You and your ilk are acting like schoolyard bullies — stomping your feet and making threats to upend the entire country if you don't get what you want."

The letter is trending on Facebook and Twitter — proof that it's personal stories, not policy wonks, that shape public opinion. Lee contends the law "is a failure that will inevitably hurt businesses, American families, and the economy."

Welling said her missive hasn't generated pushback from party loyalists.

"The feedback has been largely positive," she said Wednesday from her office at the Salt Lake City ad agency, Love Communications. "I think what resonates more than political persuasion is that it was heartfelt. Once we stop talking about Republican versus Democrat and start talking about people and their health, that's where the conversation needs to be."

The shocker for most people, she said, "is that my mom would be uninsured. We are financially-stable, educated people but these are the kinds of people, middle class Americans, who are facing this problem."

The health exchange was originally an idea promoted by the conservative Heritage Foundation and advanced by former Massachussetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican.

Asked whether she supports the health law's optional provision to expand the low-income health program Medicaid, Welling said, "That's a whole other issue."

She added, though, that she believes people deserve access to health care — "Not free health care but it should be commensurate with what people can pay. My mom is not asking for free. She is more than willing to pay her fair share. She just wants the same thing that everyone else has without having to go though a 19-page questionnaire about her health history."

So far high demand for affordable insurance has done more to disable the federal health exchange than the government shutdown or Lee's defunding threats. Millions of visitors overloaded the online marketplace during its launch on Tuesday.

But shoppers have until Dec. 15 to enroll in a plan effective in January, and open enrollment lasts through March.

"Soon, my mother will have health insurance. She will get the treatment she needs for her ongoing medical condition," wrote Welling. "Then the only gagging she'll experience will be as she watches the childish behavior coming out of Washington D.C."

Twitter: @kirstendstewart —

Save the date

On Oct. 9 at 7 p.m., The Salt Lake Tribune and KCPW will co-sponsor an Affordable Care Act town-hall meeting at Salt Lake City Main Library's auditorium, 210 E. 400 South. Jennifer Napier-Pearce will moderate a discussion with a panel of experts, who also will answer questions.