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Richard Lee Mitchell Jr. and Widdle get ready to run some errands in Rodeo, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013. Mitchell, 53, has never had health insurance but will be forced to under the Affordable Care Act. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

Construction worker Richard Lee Mitchell Jr. is 53. But he has never had medical insurance as an adult.

"I can't afford it," said Mitchell, who last looked at rates for an individual policy five years ago, on a whim, and recalled "it was something like $550 a month."

The advent of Obamacare, however, is forcing the Rodeo resident to reconsider -- along with 5.8 million other uninsured Californians who beginning Jan. 1 might be eligible for federal tax subsidies to help them buy health coverage.

Because the single, self-employed Mitchell earns only about $22,000 annually after taxes, he not only can get a subsidy, but he also can get help with out-of-pocket costs.

On the Covered California insurance exchange website, his options range from a bare-bones Bronze plan, which would cost as little as a dollar a month, to the Enhanced Silver plan, which starts at $78 monthly.

The figures surprised the 6-foot-2 Mitchell, who lives with his pit bull mix, Widdle, in a mobile home and RV park.

"I could afford something like that," he said. "I'm not a spring chicken anymore. I could get hurt fairly easily."

A few years ago, the same man who prided himself on staying safe and keeping fit fell off a roof and broke both his ankles. He went to the Contra Costa County hospital in Martinez, where doctors operated on his shattered left foot.

Before that, he said, "nothing had ever happened to me." The only time he had been in a hospital, he said, was to visit someone.

Because he was uninsured, the hospital covered most of the cost, though he offered to pay $1,500. Mitchell said he never went back to get his right ankle fixed.

Initially he considered paying the minimum $95 penalty for not buying insurance. But after checking out the rates on the insurance exchange, he has decided he will buy a policy and may even go with the pricier Enhanced Silver plan, which offers lower out-of-pocket costs if you're sick or injured.

"You pay more now," he reasoned, "but less later."