Before May 22, 2013, Jarron Johnson, 31, had never been seriously sick a day in his life. But this past spring, he happened to be in a car with two friends on their way to help another friend move when as the saying goes, he was ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time.’

Long story short: by that evening Johnson was rushing by ambulance to University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore with a life threatening gunshot wound to the lower back, an innocent victim of random gunfire.

Several blood transfusions later, and after a week-long stay in the hospital and a round of physical therapy, Johnson was able to walk again. His was a miraculous recovery even though one bullet remains lodged in his pelvis. The final bill for his relatively short hospital stay is $25,000.

“That was the last thing that I expected to ever happen to me,” said Johnson, who will receive financial assistance with his hospital bill from a victim compensation fund that covers crime victims in Baltimore City.

“Had I been involved in a car accident or become seriously ill for whatever reason, I would’ve basically been screwed. I would be responsible for the entire amount myself,” he said.

As a result of his close call with death, Johnson has been paying more attention to health coverage issues. He is also aware that the Oct. 1 deadline date is nearing for enrollment in a health plan or the expanded Medicaid program through the Maryland Health Connection.

The Maryland Health Connection (MHC) is administered by the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange (MHBE) established in April 2011 in accordance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

“I consider it a blessing, not only that I could recover and wasn’t left a quadriplegic (like his younger brother, who suffered a gunshot to the head last year), but that President Obama has put in place a plan that will help me and others like me in the future.”

Health coverage matters greatly because an unexpected illness or injury can happen to anyone, even to someone who is young and healthy like Johnson.

Without health coverage, or without enough coverage, an illness or injury can drain savings, and high medical bills are a leading cause of personal bankruptcy and home foreclosure in the United States. Until they personally face the unexpected, most people don’t realize that the average cost of a three-day hospital stay is well over $30,000 or that fixing a broken leg can cost up to $7,500.

That’s why the early outreach efforts by the (MHC) have targeted people in those demographics groups that are least likely to be insured. These include ethnic minorities – particularly African Americans and Hispanics – and the group that is dubbed “the invincibles” – millenials who’ve never bought insurance or don’t think they need it.

Beginning in October, MHC will serve as the new marketplace for consumers to compare health insurance options and enroll in a plan that best meets their needs, whether Medicaid or a private insurance plan. The enrollment period begins Oct. 1 and coverage begins on Jan. 1, 2014. 

The enrollment process has been simplified to allow Maryland residents to apply online, by phone, by mail or in person using one streamlined application.

Even if health insurance has been unaffordable in the past, residents may qualify for financial assistance or qualify for Medicaid through expanded eligibility guidelines beginning in 2014.

MHC is also the only place to receive new premium tax credits from the federal government and cost-sharing reductions. And users will be able to link to the new call center for assistance at 855-(MHC) 642-8572 or 8573 for TTY. The center is staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Go to for more information and to sign up for updates.


Roz Hamlett

Special to the AFRO