WALDORF — Victoria Swann was once the breadwinner of her family. The 57-year-old from Waldorf worked two jobs—one as an assistant store manager, another as a bus aide—and earned more than $70,000 every year. But when she lost her store manager job in June 2011, her income plummeted and she lost her health insurance.
“I could barely make it along without going to the doctor,” Swann said.
When she stopped by Health Partners, Inc., a free clinic in Charles County, Friday afternoon, she took the first step toward getting health insurance by filling out an application through Maryland’s new health insurance exchange.
“I’m hoping for something that’s not going to break me,” Swann said.
Swann is one of thousands of low-income, unemployed Marylanders who are visiting free clinics and community centers this week to find out if they are eligible for health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”
As a free clinic, Health Partners serves the uninsured and underinsured in Charles County. With the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, staff members now assist prospective insurance enrollees while continuing to provide primary care services.
Kit Wright, the president of the board for Health Partners, said that the collaboration with the Maryland Health Connection, the state’s health insurance exchange, has given the free clinic a renewed purpose.
“There are people who walk through our front door who are uninsured or underinsured, and we decided to partner with Maryland Health Connection because everyone who walks through this door will be eligible for Medicaid or subsidies,” Wright said.
“We serve the uninsured, so this is a new opportunity for us,” added Christine Mulcahey, the executive director of Health Partners.
Gabriel Newman, 46, of Waldorf, visited Health Partners Friday to complete a paper application he had picked up earlier that week. He works as a housekeeper at a mall but does not have health insurance.
He said he’s hoping to gain insurance that will improve his overall well-being.
“I want insurance that will cover everything,” Newman said. “Something that covers the whole nine yards for anything that happens.”
At Health Partners, prospective enrollees were filling out paper applications, rather than signing up through the Maryland Health Connection online marketplace, because of glitches with the website, marylandhealthconnection.gov.
The online application is designed to notify prospective enrollees immediately of their eligibility, but site delays this week have prevented applicants from even making accounts. Paper applications allow the process to continue. But navigators and assisters, who are trained by the state to help enroll people, must manually review them before determining an individual’s eligibility.
“We didn’t want to delay the process of them learning their eligibility for the programs,” said Kendra Moore, the lead navigator for Charles County. “No one has complained about not being able to find out their eligibility right away.”
Moore said most of the patients she has spoken with do not yet know what plan they want or what kind of insurance is right for them.
“I think everyone is interested in hearing about the new affordable health plans. They aren’t sure what their options are,” Moore said. “All they’ve heard is that there’s a possibility that they’re eligible for assistance.”
Raheim Fenwick, 32, of Waldorf, visited Health Partners Friday to learn about his insurance options. He had health coverage through his union when he worked for Canada Dry. But when he lost his job last December, he lost his insurance.
He said he’s hoping to gain “a little coverage” and enough assistance to see a dermatologist for his eczema.
“It will make me a healthy person, less stress,” Fenwick said. “It’s nice to know that you can get health insurance for a low rate.”
Michele Gaskill, an assister at Health Partners, said she wanted to make sure everyone in Charles County knows about their insurance options.
“Ultimately, I want to sign up everyone I can in this county,” she said.
As Swann finished up her paperwork, she praised the simplicity of the application process and how knowledgeable the navigators were about the insurance options.
“I’m feeling good about this. I was anxious when I first walked in. Now I’m calm and less concerned,” Swann said. “Mission accomplished. I’m done!”