In a cable TV studio, the cameras rolled for an interview with Dave Mollen, a volunteer for the AARP New Jersey speakers bureau. Behind soundproof glass, the four-person production team noisily chatted about their personal lives—looking online to buy a house, paying bills, the cost of a new car.
But as Mollen began ticking off key provisions of the federal health care law, the control room crew grew quiet and then began commenting on a subject that hit close to home.
"I think all age groups are interested in the new health care plan because we look at our paychecks and want to account for every dollar," said Debbi Winogracki, executive producer of Eye on Ocean County, the public affairs show that interviewed Mollen at a Toms River studio. "Are we going to be paying for the uninsured, who will now need to have insurance? What are the penalties if we don't have insurance?"
The June taping was the first appearance on health care by the speakers bureau of AARP New Jersey as it readied a fall campaign to explain the complex law passed by Congress. On request, a dozen well-trained volunteers will speak at community centers, churches, hospitals, assisted living facilities and other sites across the state, said speakers bureau coordinator Dorothy Dowling.
The all-volunteer bureau has provided speakers and educational handouts on many topics, including the power of the vote, a New Jersey program to protect your credit report from identity theft, and prescription drug costs. Dowling said the landmark health law is the hot topic this fall. "I go through all the other topics and they're not interested," she said.
Mollen, 68, is the lead volunteer spokesman for health care reform in New Jersey. He familiarized himself with the legislation and participated in national AARP briefings and conference calls. Then he developed a speech and materials for the presentations. "It's very complicated. There's a lot to know," he said.
Residents 65 years or older wonder what the legislation will do to their Medicare benefits and doctor relationships, Mollen said. People ages 50 to 64 want to know what it will mean for them now and when they retire or become eligible for federal health benefits. "If they have children, they also want to know how it affects them," he said.
While geared for older people, Mollen's presentation held the attention of the four "thirty-somethings" who produced the 30-minute Comcast show; they were all laid off last year and lost their health insurance.
"Health care reform affects every one of us and that's why we were so interested in what Dave had to say," Winogracki said.
Located along the Jersey shore, Ocean County "has more seniors than any other place in New Jersey, so I knew that health care would be a great topic for Eye on Ocean County," she said.
Mollen, retired from IBM, uses his corporate experience to educate AARP volunteers on the techniques of making public presentations and the standards of the speakers bureau.
Betty Heuser, a member of the speakers bureau steering committee, said the goal is to help people make informed choices. "Whether the presentation is to a senior center, an AARP chapter or to a group of baby boomers seeking help with aging parents or their own pending retirement, our goal is to break down an issue so that it can be easily comprehended," she said.
Mary Beth Dixon, AARP associate state director for community outreach, said the speakers reach 5,000 to 8,000 people a year.
To request a speaker for a group of 30 or more, call the speakers bureau at least 30 days in advance at 1-877-926-8300 toll-free. There is no charge for a speaker.
For more information, access AARP's health care reform resources online, including fact sheets, answers to questions as well as webinars on what you need to know about the the law, what to do during Medicare open season and temporary insurance for people with preexisting conditions.
Mark Mittelstadt is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.