In Mexico, Dec. 12 is the day to celebrate the country's most revered religious icon: the Virgin of Guadalupe.
As many as 6 million pilgrims have made their way to the Mexican capital to pay homage to the country's patron saint on Thursday, and one woman has taken her devotion of the Virgin and turned it into a multimillion-dollar company.
Amparo Serrano, the owner of a company called Distroller, says it's customary on holiday to ask the Virgin of Guadalupe for something. The requests usually fall in the health or wealth categories, but she likes to lighten the religious mood and ask the Virgin for other things.
"Why not ask the Virgin to help you get rid of your cellulite or find a new boyfriend?" Serrano says. "Or, 'Please tell my mother-in-law to go away for a little bit.' "
Those are the kinds of messages she prints on dozens of products with her sparkling cartoon depictions of the Virgin, all with a "please" at the end. She spells it plis, as you would phonetically read it in Spanish. You can find her chubby-cheeked Virgencita Plis now on pens, notebooks, pajamas, plates and picture frames. All of her items are packaged at Serrano's warehouse, tucked away in the hills of southern Mexico City.
On the warehouse floor, there are a pile of Converse shoe boxes. Last year, Distroller signed a deal with the shoe giant. Serrano says she is very careful about what she puts the Virgencita on, and shoes didn't seem appropriate. Socks, maybe, but not shoes. Instead, she decorated them with her line of doll characters, the same ones she puts on sanitary napkins.
This year, Distroller sales will top $5 million. Wal-Mart picked up her doll line, and she penned a deal with Cartoon Network. Her lawyer says licensing fees will bring in another $45 million.
That's quite a feat considering Serrano started out 10 years ago with nothing, she says, and with little confidence. She says she never planned on this being a business.
"I'm very passionate about what I do, so I never thought that anyone was going to pay for a thing that I did, really," she says.
Serrano comes from a very prominent and religious Mexican family, and says her animated products make religion fun and accessible to young people. She's perplexed that people would say she is making fun of the revered Virgin.
Mexico's Catholic Church agrees. "It is something positive, and to us it is not in bad taste at all," says Father Pablo Pedrazi.
But outside the Grand Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, reaction among devotees is mixed. One mother says she loves that her kids want purses and notebooks with the Virgencita. But Angelica Espinoza, a mother of three small children, is not happy. She says she thinks it's just a passing fad, and she wants her children to worship the real image.
Serrano shrugs off the criticism. Business is booming, and she is deeply flattered by the idea that the Virgencita is like the Hello Kitty of Mexico. She hopes her colorful images will travel well beyond her country. She has stores in Spain, Colombia and Ecuador, and hopefully soon in the United States.
Some of the biggest ski resorts anywhere lie in U.S. Rep. Jared Polis' Colorado district, dotting the peaks of Summit and Eagle counties, about a hundred miles west of Denver. The area has a high rate of uninsured people and also, it turns out, health plans that are much more expensive than similar plans in surrounding regions. So expensive that Polis, a Democrat, has asked the federal government to exempt some of his constituents from the requirement to buy health insurance.
"The way the pricing came in under the Affordable Care Act ... was anything but affordable in Summit and Eagle counties," Polis says. "Upwards of $500 to $600 a month, minimum. Whereas in other parts of my district — like Fort Collins and the Boulder area — the pricing is really good. You [can] get a very strong, good insurance program for $300 to $350 a month."
Colorado's insurance commissioner, Marguerite Salazar, disputes the congressman's assessment of his district.
"I've been very pleasantly surprised to see that in some cases they're able to get a lower-cost plan than people with the same demographic information in Denver," she says.
The health plan prices Salazar is talking about include subsidies that can lower costs for people making below a certain income. Couples, for instance, can get a subsidy if they make less than about $62,000 a year. But Salazar's argument didn't impress people at a recent public meeting she held in Summit County.
"You try living in this county for two adults on $62,000 a year," one angry constituent said. "You can't do it."
The median rent in Summit County is 24 percent higher than in Denver. Gas and groceries are more expensive in Summit, and so is health care. Commissioner Salazar says that's why she approved higher insurance rates here.
"So what you're saying is we're screwed, and there's nothing you can or will do to prevent that," a woman said to Salazar at the public meeting.
"That's not what I'm saying," Salazar replied.
"Well, that's what we're hearing," responded another attendee.
People in the mountain communities are upset because insurance rates across the county line are dramatically lower. They want to be added into a so-called rating area with the regions paying lower rates.
Ben Price, with the Colorado Association of Health Plans, says insurers have to be able to charge people who live in different regions different prices.
If they can't, he says, "you're asking that [lower cost] county to subsidize all the folks that live in the county that was more expensive."
Price says insurers pay up to 45 percent more per person for medical care in the mountains versus in Denver. To give people in high-cost counties a discount, insurers would have to make up their loss by charging people in low-cost counties more, which wouldn't be fair.
"This isn't driven by the insurance industry," Price says. "These [different rates] are driven by factual numbers about the cost of health care."
Insurance companies have long charged people living in different places different prices for similar policies. And there have been pretty dramatic differences in what people pay from one side of any given state to another, says Timothy McBride, an economist at Washington University in St. Louis.
Before the Affordable Care Act, McBride says, insurers were allowed to vary their prices according to a long list of criteria — including an applicant's overall health, for example, or whether the person had a pre-existing condition. Now, they can only vary what they charge according to a person's age, whether they smoke and where they live.
Now, after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, McBride says, "in most parts of the country, that variation across geographic area is probably better."
But not in Colorado. Arguably, price variation across the state hasn't gotten worse under Obamacare. But more people are noticing price differences now, since the law requires them to buy a minimum level of health coverage, and old, low-cost, bare-bones plans are no longer allowed.
Rep. Polis is working with Commissioner Salazar to bring down the high insurance rates in the mountains. They're optimistic it will happen next year. But people in the industry say they expect rates to be volatile for at least a couple of years — until insurance companies get a handle on exactly how the Affordable Care Act is changing their business.
This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR and Kaiser Health News.