Janice Baker does not consider herself a political person. In 2009 she was aware of the health care debate, but not much else.
Now, she can’t say enough good things about the Affordable Care Act. She understands some of the criticism, but feels most of it is because people haven’t really looked into what is being offered in the way of preventative health care.
For Baker, who runs the Heavenly Hound Hotel, a kennel in Selbyville, with her husband Joseph, her high level of interest in the law coincides with her own needs for a health care plan she could afford.
In 2009, her insurance plan cost $10,000; that’s a $7,000 jump from 2003. By 2013, her policy was $20,000 and she was ready to do anything to change her situation.
Normally, she said higher costs like insurance would be passed along in the rates she charges to board dogs in her 18-kennel operation. “I understand prices go up. Costs go up, but there was no way we could raise our rates here to adjust to that.”
On their own
She and her husband have run their kennel for 25 years. Prior to it, they were in the hotel business in Ocean City, MD for 13 years, but wanted to do something different for themselves. They had health insurance through their previous jobs. Baker said they didn’t mind being on their own in a small business pool until 5 years ago.
She said when their insurance hit the $20,000 mark her husband thought they could do better on their own than as a couple. He got a policy through a friend, while Baker paid the skyrocketing premiums for her own plan.
Searching for alternatives, Baker was turned down by three insurance companies. By Oct. 1, 2013 she was running out of options and couldn’t understand why she couldn’t find a new policy.
“My health is good. We are active. I have some issues that most 59-year-olds have,” she added.
During down times while caring for the dogs, she was logging on the computer looking to sign up for the Affordable Care Act. She said she was aware of the now infamous computer issues, but felt strongly that somehow she was going to get through and sign up.
Delaware’s first enrollee
Delaware health officials stepped in to help when they realized Baker would be the first person in the state to sign up under the Affordable Care Act. When she had officially enrolled, the state notified the White House. By now her story is familiar.
“My husband says to me one day, the White House is on the phone. I thought, ‘Yeah, right,’” she laughed. But it was the White House and they wanted her to come and talk about her experiences. They also asked if she would introduce the President.
“They never asked to see what I was going to say.” Baker said.
Baker said she was in a room before the event with 15 other people. She was the last to shake his hand. Baker added that she took a look at the Oval Office before that Affordable Health Care Act ceremony.
“The whole time I was going, desk, rug, pictures. I’m really here,” adding it felt like she was on a movie set.
Baker says she has had her 15 minutes of fame, but adds she will do anything she can to help push the benefits she has received since signing up.
“I got to keep my doctor, my lab, everything,” she said, emphasizing the level of preventative care “is amazing”.
“For me this is also personal. I believe if this type of preventative care was around when my sister became ill with cervical cancer, she would be alive today” Baker said.
Believes in Obamacare
The kennel on Lighthouse Road in Selbyville is down the street from new beach resort housing that has sprung up over the last 10 years, but it’s also tucked in between a couple of chicken farms representing the old way of life in this Sussex County town.
The office where people come in to board their dogs is decorated with dog photos and dog toys for sale. She says she spoke to a customer whose son signed up for the government plan after reading about Baker’s experiences.
On the day we were there, another prospective customer came in to look at the Baker’s set up. She asked whether Baker was doing a commercial.
“I was the first person to sign up for the Affordable Care Act,” she said, explaining what she was doing. The woman added that she “didn’t really want to get involved with that.” Baker politely continued her tour.
“People just need to go to their computer to see what’s being offered. I hope [the law] is here to stay.”