At a recent meeting of the Brooklyn Park Community Association in Anne Arundel County, many of the elderly members seated in the library of the local elementary school wondered whether they could keep their coverage under Medicare, the federal health program for senior citizens. They were told that they could and that coverage wouldn't change for them.
Paul Kowalski,80, a retiree from the rail giant CSX Corp., had other concerns. He has Medicare and his insurance coverage won't change, but that didn't stop him from peppering representatives from Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's office with questions.
Kowalski had heard that doctors would have to get permission to perform surgeries from bureaucrats in Washington with no medical experience and that anyone who sells a house would have to give part of the proceeds to the government to help fund health reform.
"No, no, no, that is not right," said Jennifer Riggs Driban, a Ruppersberger district director.
Outreach worker Bernard Turner has heard other myths — the most outrageous being that the law requires people to get a computer tracking chip implanted in their bodies.
Enrolling Marylanders in insurance plans is key to the success of Obamacare, supporters say. The uninsured don't get basic care and often seek treatment in hospital emergency rooms — which is more expensive — when preventable health problems fester. Reform advocates say regular care will promote a healthier population and drive down costs.
Turner, 55, is reaching out to residents on behalf of Evergreen Health, a co-op being started by former Baltimore Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson.
Turner and others also pass out fliers about the expansion of Medicaid to those who they think might qualify. On a recent Thursday evening, he and co-worker Grace Jackson succeeded in reaching out to seven people on one block and collected phone numbers for follow-up as they knocked on doors in the Bel-Air Edison neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore.
Malcolm Grimes, 32, a special events coordinator at a local museum, was about to leave for work when Jackson knocked on his door. He has no insurance and hopes he doesn't get sick. But he goes to a hospital emergency room when he does.
Grimes figured that he would qualify for insurance under Obamacare but wasn't sure how to sign up and worried that it would be too expensive. He said the information he got from Jackson and Turner would help point him in the right direction.
Turner and Jackson also talked to people as they walked down the street or hung out on the corner.
"We don't let anybody walk by," said Turner, who says that having insurance should be a basic human right.
Curtis Brown, 51, was carrying groceries down the street when the pair stopped him.
"If you don't have affordable health insurance, we have a path for you," Turner said.
Brown, a food service worker at a university, doesn't have health insurance and didn't know he could get it under the federal law. He was grateful to learn that he might finally get to see a doctor regularly. Brown said he doesn't get sick often, so he hasn't worried too much about the lack of coverage.
Every now and then he has to go to the emergency room, he said, but he doesn't have money for treatment.
"I can't afford to pay, so I just don't," he said. "I don't know what happens to the bill."
The state's 183 public libraries will pass out fliers and help clients find information about health plans. Some people will likely use library computers to sign up for insurance.
"Librarians are trained to help people do their research," said Paula Isett, who does public relations for the state's libraries. "Librarians are trained to assist people, and that is why this is a perfect connection."
Bon Secours Hospital in West Baltimore serves a largely low-income population who wind up in its emergency room because they have no basic health care. Because of that, Bon Secours officials say the hospital is a logical place to encourage people to get insurance.
"This is really about reaching people where they are," said Dr. Samuel L. Ross, CEO of Baltimore Bon Secours Health System.
Outreach efforts will intensify when open enrollment begins Oct. 1. It will be more effective to reach people when they can actually sign up, outreach workers said. They know they won't sway everybody. But they said they will try.
In Brooklyn Park, Kowalski wasn't convinced by Driban's answers. The government needs to make money in certain ways, such as taking a portion of home sales to pay for Obamacare, he insisted.
"I don't believe her," he said after the meeting. "If they are going to provide all these people with free care, they are going to have to have some way to pay for it."