The First Lady on Health Insurance Reform and Older Women

November 14, 2009 | 37:00

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks about the difficulties senior women face in today's health insurance market and the importance of reform. November 13, 2009. (Public Domain)

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Remarks by the First Lady on Health Insurance Reform and Older Women

3:12 P.M. EST

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you so much.  First of all, forgive me -- I’ve got children, and now I have a cold.  (Laughter.)  It goes along with the territory.

Let me begin by first thanking Tina Tchen, who’s doing an outstanding job as Director of the Office of Public Engagement by opening up this White House to the American people and organizing events like this one today.  She’s just been a terrific asset and a dear friend -- and let’s give her a round of applause.  (Applause.)

And I also want to commend Nancy-Ann for her extraordinary leadership on health care -- health insurance reform.  I know my husband, who is traveling abroad right now, would agree with me when I say that without her, we wouldn’t have come this far, and because of her, we’re going to get the job done.  So we are grateful to you, Nancy-Ann.  (Applause.)

And of course, I want to thank all the women who are here today.  This is a wonderful, lively group -- I heard you all giggling earlier today.  (Laughter.)

But I also want to thank the women who spoke today -- to Kelly and Fran and Judy -- for sharing their stories.  What they’ve been through isn’t easy, and I’m grateful that they have been brave enough and open enough to share their stories with all of us.  It takes a lot of courage.

These stories touch our hearts.  They spark in us just a fundamental sense of unfairness.  But the sad truth is none of these stories are unique.  These kinds of stories are being told in city after city, town after town, all across America.  They’re being told by women who lost their coverage when their husband lost a job, or their husband passed away.  They’re being told by women who aren’t getting regular checkups because it’s simply too expensive.  They’re being told my women living on fixed incomes who can’t afford the prescription drugs that they need.

     All of these stories reflect the fundamental reality -- and that is, women are among those struggling most under the status quo, the way things are.  And women are among those who will benefit most from health insurance reform because the truth is that women, we have a special relationship with our health care system.  In a lot of families that’s true because we are the health care system in so many ways.  (Laughter.)

Eight in 10 mothers say they’re the ones responsible for choosing their children’s doctors, taking them to appointments, and managing the follow-up care.  And over 10 percent of all women are now caring for a sick or elderly relative.

Our entire lives as women, we are asked to bear much of the responsibility for our family’s health and well-being.  And yet, we often face special challenges when it comes to our own health insurance.  Part of it has to do with the fact that women are more likely than men to do part-time work or to work in a small business -- in jobs that are less likely to offer the kind of insurance that you really need.  In fact, over half of all women in this country don’t have the option of getting insurance through the workplace at all.

But even women who do have insurance face inequities under the status quo.  Because women make less than 80 cents for every dollar their male coworkers make, it’s more difficult for them to pay their premiums -- especially when studies show that they’re paying far more than men for the same coverage.

And I don’t think anyone here will be surprised to learn that a recent study found that one-third of all women have either used up savings, taken on debt, or given up basic necessities just to pay their medical bills.  And as many of you know firsthand, these kinds of problems -- the problems of coverage and cost -- only grow worse when you get older, making quality, affordable coverage harder to come by just -- as we’ve seen today and heard today -- just when you need it the most.

In the individual market, people in their early 60s are more than twice as likely to be denied coverage than people in their late 30s.  Older women are more likely than men to face a chronic illness, but they’re less likely to be able to afford the cost of treating that illness.  And in recent years, studies have shown that women over the age of 65 spend about 17 percent of their income on health care.  And that’s just not right.

Our mothers and grandmothers, they have taken care of us all their lives; they’ve made the sacrifices that it takes to get us where we need to be.  And we have an obligation to make sure that we’re taking care of them.  It’s as simple as that.  America has a responsibility to give all seniors the golden years they deserve and the secure, dignified retirement that they worked so hard to achieve.  (Applause.)

And that’s exactly what health insurance reform is going to help us do in this country.

Now, I can tell you -- I can’t tell, actually, what the bill that will ultimately land across my husband’s desk will look like -- none of us can.  But I can tell you just a few important ways that the insurance system will be impacted.

For starters -- and this is very important -- your insurance will not change unless you want it to change.  So if things are great for you, you’re fine.  (Laughter.)  It will, however, become more stable and more secure, no matter what your situation is.  There will be a cap on how much you can be charged in out-of-pocket expenses in a year or in a lifetime.  So there will be a cap.  It will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage for preexisting conditions.  (Applause.)  And that change alone will help us end the discrimination women face in our health care system.  And also, insurance companies will be required to cover, at no extra cost, routine checkups and preventive care.

And I’d like to speak just a moment about what reform will mean for seniors, in particular.

There’s been a lot of misinformation on this topic so I want to be clear -- Nancy-Ann mentioned this:  Not a dime of the Medicare Trust Fund will be used to pay for reform.  Health insurance reform will not endanger Medicare; it will make Medicare more stable and secure.  (Applause.)  By eliminating wasteful subsidies to private insurance and cracking down on fraud and abuse throughout the system, this administration believes that we can bring down premiums for all our seniors and extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund.

My husband believes that Medicare is a sacred part of America’s social safety net, and it’s a safety net that he will protect -- he will protect with health insurance reform.  And I know that many seniors on Medicare are also concerned about the cost of prescription drugs; we’ve heard about it here.

Right now, millions of seniors face huge out-of-pocket costs when their spending on drugs falls within a coverage gap.  My husband is committed to closing that gap, which will save some seniors, as you’ve heard, thousands of dollars on medications and make prescription drugs more affordable for millions of older Americans.  (Applause.)

So what we’re talking about -- affordable prescription drugs for Americans who need them; Medicare that’s protected today and tomorrow; stability and security for Americans who have insurance; quality, affordable coverage for Americans who don’t.  That’s what reform will mean for older women, for seniors, and for all Americans.

So that’s why I believe in this so strongly.  That’s why I believe in this so strongly.

But in the end, I’m not here just as a First Lady.  That’s not why I’m doing this.  I am here because I’m a daughter.  I’m here because I have an extraordinary mother who is 72 years old -- young.  (Laughter and applause.)  And I know there are countless women in this country who have loved ones who feel the same way about them as I do about my mother.

And when all is said and done, part of why I believe so strongly in reforming our health care system is because of the difference it will make for these women who gave us life -- so simple -- these women who raised us, these women who supported us through the years.  They deserve better than the status quo.  They deserve a health care system that heals them and lifts them up.

And that’s what my husband is committed to doing, to building that kind of system in the weeks and months to come.

So thank you all.  Thank you for sharing your stories.  Thank you all for your hard work and dedication, for listening, for being a part -- and let’s get to work.  Thank you so much.   (Applause.)


3:22 P.M. EST

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