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More than 250 women from Southern Maryland and Prince George’s County received a crash course on the imminent implementation of federal health care reform Wednesday at U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer’s 11th annual Women’s Equality Day Luncheon in Waldorf.

Maryland Health Benefit Exchange Executive Director Rebecca Pearce said that the state expects to enroll 180,000 new health insurance customers and add another 110,000 to its Medicaid rolls beginning next month.

The state has created an online exchange, Maryland Health Connection, in compliance with the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which requires states to set up their own exchanges or have the federal government do it for them.

Most of the law’s major provisions take effect in January, including a mandate that citizens without health insurance purchase coverage or pay a penalty. The first open enrollment period for state residents begins Oct. 1.

Pearce said that one of the lesser known aspects of the law is that it will provide subsidies to those making up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $46,000 for an individual. It is estimated that three of every four people who buy insurance through the state exchange will be eligible for tax credits totaling $7.5 billion during the next five years.

“So when people ask you, ‘How is it that I’m going to pay for health insurance tomorrow when I can’t afford it today,’ it’s because of these subsidies,” she said.

In addition to requiring that insurance plans cover preventative care with no copayments from patients and barring insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, Pearce said the law also provides women with direct access to their OB-GYNs, and prevents companies from charging different rates based on sex.

Pearce encouraged the women in the room to spread the word about the exchange, emphasizing the influence they wield at home.

“We’ve done a significant amount of research in the state to do our advertising campaign, and what we found is people make decisions based on what Mom tells them,” she said.

State Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s) already had demonstrated women’s power when, before delivering a spirited, six-minute prayer to open the luncheon, she thanked Hoyer for having “the good sense to sponsor this activity, because he knows how powerful women are.”

On cue, Hoyer stood and applauded the room.

Benson said she was proud to be at the luncheon as the lone female state senator from Prince George’s County, “serving with seven married men.”

“And as a single woman, that is no fun,” she quipped.

Benson’s prayer seemed to leave several in the room breathless, and drew a round of impressed applause.

“That was not anything but a Baptist prayer,” Benson said. “Did you all like that?”

The luncheon also served as the launching pad for former Del. Sue Kullen’s campaign to retake her old seat in Calvert County, which she lost in the 2010 election to Del. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert).

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin’s citizens’ liaison in Southern Maryland, Kullen said the senator had planned to attend the luncheon, but was called back to Congress for hearings on the events in Syria.

Kullen then announced that she had begun her soft campaign, door knocking in the southern end of Fisher’s district, which crept south and added new voters during the 2012 redistricting process.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” she said as gleeful applause broke out.

jnewman@somdnews.com