Thomas Mason had been on the job one month selling ice cream and drinks at Ben and Jerry’s, where, he said, smoothies were the most popular items. He earns $8 an hour for twenty to thirty hours of work each week. Buying insurance is out of the question. But he told me he has coverage through a state program in Maryland, where he lives, and he showed me his Priority Partners card. He got it when he wasn’t working and doesn’t know how the new job will affect his coverage. Nor did he have much of an idea how reform would affect him. “I really don’t know,” he replied when I asked.

Mason, age thirty-three, said he saw people arguing on the news—mostly he watches Fox—“but I don’t understand what they are saying…. Is he (Obama) making mandatory health care for everybody? Why are they arguing about that?” Of Fox, he said, “they keep you somewhat informed about what you need to know.”

Manau Rosales, age twenty-one, works at Fire & Ice, a jewelry store selling to visitors who come to the nation’s capital. She has been there about a year and a half and has no insurance from her employer. At first she tells me she has Medicare but then corrects herself and says Medicaid. Both she and her toddler receive health care through Medicaid. Rosales told me she was not following the debate but was concerned that if she no longer had Medicaid, she would be in trouble. “I’m glad they give me insurance, or I’d struggle like crazy. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t get care. So if something changes because of his (Obama’s) decision, it would be a big problem.”

Rosales gets her information from MSNBC, the Internet, and Express, the free newspaper distributed on the train she takes every day from Prince George’s County. The day after we chatted, Express, a publication of The Washington Post, ran a story on page three announcing Sen. Max Baucus had revealed his reform bill. Said Rosales: “When it comes to the point where anything changes, they will put it in there. They will give us important information.”

I stopped by Sbarro’s Pizzeria and found a fiftyish woman sipping a coke. She said she was waiting for a train to New York City and wouldn’t let me use her name. She agreed to talk and did not hesitate to tell me how she felt about reform. She did not like it. The woman had government health care through her husband, who was an administrative law judge at one of the federal agencies. “I have the really good federal government policy,” she told me. The woman was Hungarian and had left Hungary more than thirty years ago. “I am skeptical of socialized medicine. Period! We had socialized medicine—long lines to wait for the doctor.”

She was certain that the quality of medical care would be affected badly under Obama’s plan. “Definitely,” she said. Here’s how she explained it: “If he’s not going to increase the costs and bring in more people, either he’s dishonest, as they say in Congress, or it will affect the quality of care. If something is too good to be true, it probably is.” The woman said she was afraid government bureaucrats may tell doctors what to do. “I don’t understand why we need to overhaul the whole system,” she said, and told me that she supported reforming Medicaid and community clinics to “enrich that part of the system.”
As the woman got up to catch her train, she said she was a Republican and liked Politico, Fox, and CNN. “I’m praying to God I won’t be affected by it. You can put that down.”

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Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.