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Maryland Faith Leaders Gather for Health Care Summit

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File photo of a doctor examining a patient. (credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

File photo of a doctor examining a patient. (credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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BALTIMORE — Maryland health advocates urged religious leaders on Tuesday to learn more about how federal health care reform will be implemented in the state so they can pass information on to uninsured congregants.

About 150 leaders gathered for the first summit of its kind in the state. The summit began with state officials and health advocates explaining how important it will be for the religious community to spread information about how to get insurance under the sweeping changes.

“Our faith communities could not be more important to this effort,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said to kick off the summit.

Participants sat in on sessions to learn about Medicaid expansion, the state’s health care exchange and what they should tell congregants when they ask for information.

The Rev. Janet Craswell, of the Salem United Methodist Church in Brookeville, described the summit as very helpful. Although her church is in a small Maryland community, Craswell said she has been hearing from a wide variety of people who will be impacted by the overhaul, including families with unemployed and uninsured young adults, people with disabilities and small business owners who are confused and concerned about how the law will impact their businesses.

“We see people every day,” Craswell said. “I mean, we are dealing with people week to week, and we’re also dealing with people at the point of crisis where they’re in hospitals and in hospice and they’re having to deal with major life issues.”

Most of the participants came from the Baltimore area, but some statewide leaders also attended. Organizers hope they will pass what they’ve learned on to other faith leaders. In addition to hearing from state experts on health care implementation, participants received a package of basic information about how implementation will work and coverage options to disseminate to others.

Craswell, for example, said she planned to include what she learned in a newsletter and pass information on to the parish nurse.

Rebecca Pearce, executive director of the Maryland Health Connection, which is the name of the state’s health exchange, gave an overview about the exchange will work. It is a marketplace where people and small businesses can choose among benefit plans offered by private insurers and determine their eligibility for Medicaid and federal tax credits.

“It is not government insurance,” Pearce said. “It is private insurers putting their products on our store shelves. All you need to think of us as is a store, and what we do is we are a conduit to the subsidies.”

Pearce noted that enrollment only lasts for 180 days, from Oct. 1 to March 31. She said the state expects to enroll 180,000 people into health insurance and an additional 100,000 through Medicaid expansion for a total 280,000 for the period.

“We absolutely cannot do that without the support of the faith community to do the outreach, do the education, educate all Marylanders on why it’s important for everybody to have health insurance,” Pearce said.

Maryland has about 740,000 uninsured residents.

Pearce also said it’s important for people who have health insurance to be aware of options, because people learn from their friends.

“They trust what their friends are telling them, so the more that we can get the grassroots effort out the further this is going to go,” Pearce said.

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(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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