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Sun Investigates

Hate the health exchange, love the insurance

Frustrated with her inability to get health insurance, Bonnita Spikes entered the political fray when she was featured in gubernatorial candidate Douglas F. Gansler's April radio ad lambasting Maryland's problem-fraught health exchange.

But as irritated as she was with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Maryland, she's been much happier with the treatment she's received after she finally enrolled. Now Spikes has lent her voice to a publicity campaign praising the health reform effort.

Shortly after she appeared in Gansler's ad, a navigator from the Area Agency on Aging in Prince George's County helped Spikes sign up for Medicaid coverage. And now the retired nurse, who suffers from a terminal illness, calls her new health coverage lifesaving.

She is such a fan of Obamacare that when her old friend and health advocate Vincent DeMarco sent out an email in search of people who had successfully enrolled in insurance, she contacted him right away.

DeMarco, who believes the success of reform has been overshadowed by stories about the technical problems with Maryland's exchange, jumped at the chance to publicize Spikes' change of heart.

"I was thrilled that she sent me the email and wanted to do this because her story really exemplifies what happened here: big problems that turned into success," said DeMarco, president of advocacy group Maryland Health Care For All Coalition.

Spikes said her decision to participate in the Gansler ad was not politically motivated. She ran into his running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey, and began venting about her problems with the exchange, which she said she tried to access at least 50 times.

Ivey put her in touch with the Gansler campaign staff, who set her up to appear in an ad.

"At the time she caught me I was livid," Spikes said of her encounter with Ivey. "I was telling everybody I saw."

Her later decision to show support for reform also had nothing to do with politics, she said.

"Whoever wins, everybody deserves health care," Spikes said.

DeMarco, whose group has pushed through an alcohol and tobacco tax to fund health coverage for the disadvantaged, also said he is not wading into the gubernatorial race. His group does not endorse candidates, he said, although it did give gubernatorial candidate Anthony G. Brown the "Maryland's Public Health Hero" award last year.

A spokesman for Gansler said the campaign is happy Spikes now has insurance. Gansler supports health care reform, but not the way Brown, the lieutenant governor, handled the exchange "debacle," said spokeswoman Katie Hill.

Spikes still stands by what she said in the radio ad.

"It was true at the time," she said. "It was more than true at the time. They're lucky I was not acting like a rabid dog."

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