KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Last year’s presidential election was less than a week away when Barbara Schneider appeared before a group of Northland seniors to discuss the polarizing topic of health care reform.
And even though Schneider was at the Platte County Community Center in Parkville, Mo., as an objective presenter, she anticipated some barbs from the audience in that right-leaning part of the metropolitan area.
More than half the roughly 70 people in the audience were probably Republicans – some of them outspokenly conservative, recalled Kathy Armitage, the center coordinator who had invited Schneider to speak.
“Being the Affordable Care Act, people right before the election were saying, ‘It’s Obamacare, it’s Obamacare,’” Armitage said. “And Barbara did an awesome job because she not only had the facts to back her up and the proof, but she knew exactly what she was talking about…it probably opened their minds a little bit more and made them be a little bit more objective about how they viewed it.”
That’s the mission of the Affordable Care Act Education Group, a volunteer-run speaker’s bureau dedicated to presenting nonpartisan information about the health care reform law to the public. Schneider is a member of the group.
Formed shortly after enactment of the law in March 2010, group leaders said they have organized more than 100 information sessions with a combined attendance of more than 2,000 people.
Stephene Moore, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the group appears unique within the four-state region she oversees from her Kansas City office.
She said she was grateful to the group for augmenting the department’s outreach to consumers about the law.
“People are talking to people, neighbors are asking questions of neighbors, and people are sorting through what they have been hearing, which sometimes has not been factual,” Moore said, “and now they are able to be educated and move forward with the facts and take from it what they need to take from it for themselves.”
The group schedules three or four engagements per month and has speakers booked through June.
Previous outings have taken them to a one-room library in Edgerton, Mo., a Ryan’s restaurant in Raymore, Mo., and to the civic center in Spring Hill, Kan., where the speaker talked to about a dozen Rotarians.
“We go wherever there is space and a projector,” said co-chair Alice Kitchen.
Run by a core of about half a dozen people, group members compensate for their lack of a budget by paying out of pocket for copying costs.
Kitchen, who retired three years ago as director of social work and community services for Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, pays her niece to do graphic arts work for the group.
And Sarah Starnes, the other co-chair, takes annual leave time from her social work job to attend group meetings or speaking engagements.
Other key participants include retirees from health care professions or the corporate world. Schneider is a former vice president of human resources for H&R Block.
Frank Neff, who lives in a Lenexa retirement center, provides support for the group’s work in Kansas.
At 87 years old, he is about two decades removed from his job at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he helped develop instructional materials for practitioners working with infants with developmental disabilities.
Group members said they have had some amusing experiences along the way.
Starnes recalled an elderly man he encountered at a Spring Hill appearance sat through about a third of the presentation before asking: “This isn’t about that Obamacare, is it?”
And after taking flack at an appearance in Platte County from an elderly woman who repeated three times that they should just quit messing with her Medicare, Kitchen said she learned it was unwise to be sandwiched between lunch and bingo.
Members of the group said they support the Affordable Care Act but that they take pains to simply present facts about the law rather than promoting it.
That Schneider did not provoke any anger at the Parkville community center illustrated her even-handedness, Armitage said.
Though HHS has PowerPoint presentations she could use, Schneider instead works from a Consumer Reports information guide.
Schneider said the reform she would have preferred would have expanded Medicare eligibility. Now, however, she said she doesn’t begrudge the participation of private payers in the system established by the Affordable Care Act.
“I say this in my presentation,” Schneider said, “I appreciate we got business involved. We are a market country. And we can’t just exclude all the insurance companies from being involved. They should be.”