First Lady on Health Insurance Reform and Older Women

Tina Tchen:
Well, good afternoon. This is a crowd that’s ready. Good afternoon, and
welcome to the White House. My name is Tina Tchen. I am the Director of the
White House Office of Public Engagement, and I am also the
Executive Director of the White House Council on
Women and Girls. On behalf of the Council
on Women and Girls, we are delighted to welcome you
to this very important event with the First Lady of the
United States, Michelle Obama, to talk about the importance of
healthcare reform for senior women. This is an issue that many
of you have been active on. We’re joined here today by
leaders of organizations that have been active in support of
healthcare reform for seniors and many senior women themselves
who have experienced what’s going on with our current
healthcare system and why the status quo is not
acceptable and doesn’t work, especially for older women. We’re really fortunate today
to have with us several organizations that have been
very active and have worked with us on this event, including
Jennie Chin Hansen, the President of ARP. Jennie is right here. Barbara Kennelly,
the President of — (applause) Yep, absolutely. (applause) Jennie. We also have Barbara Kennelly,
the President of the National Committee to Preserve Social
Security and Medicare. (applause) And Barbara Easterling,
President of the Alliance of Retired Americans. (applause) And I especially want to
acknowledge another special guest right here in the
front row who I just met, and that’s Ruth Nadel,
the 95-year-old, one of the founders of
the Older Women’s League, who is here with us. (applause) Finally, we’re also joined
here today by Kathy Greenlee, who is our Assistant Secretary
of Health and Human Services for the Administration on Aging. Kathy. (applause) So we know Americans shoulder
the burden of rising healthcare costs and increasingly
inadequate health insurance, and women aged 55 and older have
unique situations and healthcare needs that make
them particularly, particularly susceptible
in these rise in costs. And health insurance reform
is is what will offer quality affordable options for
women without insurance, it will provide unprecedented
security and stability for women with insurance and importantly,
importantly and we’re here today, contrary to what you may
have heard out in the press, it will protect and strengthen
Medicare for senior women. (applause) So, to talk about
these issues today, in addition to our First Lady,
we have three women who come to really share their
personal stories, because their personal stories
are what’s most powerful about conveying this message. We have Kelly Bollinger
from Owego, New York, Fran Garfinkle from
Bethesda, Maryland, and Judy Stein from
Mansfield, Connecticut. But before we hear from them,
it is really my great honor and pleasure to introduce someone
who has become a very dear friend through all of this who
was a great leader on healthcare reform, the counselor
to the President, the head of our white house
office on health reform, Nancy-Ann DeParle. (applause) Nancy-Ann DeParle:
Thank you, Tina, for that introduction and for
being such a great friend and colleague, and thank you, to
everyone who has joined us here today at the White House. You’re here at a critical time. Nearly one week ago the House of
Representatives passed health insurance reform legislation,
and this is truly — (applause) This is truly
history in the making. President Teddy
Roosevelt, President Truman, President Nixon,
and President Carter, and President Clinton all
proposed healthcare reform. This president and this congress
are the first to advance a healthcare bill to the vote
on the floor of either house. (applause) And I want to congratulate
speaker Nancy Pelosi and all of her team and the people who
cast the courageous votes last Saturday. Next week majority leader Harry
Reid has announced that the Senate will continue
its work to pass a bill, and I’ve spent time working with
the congressional leadership, as has Tina and everyone here,
and I know they are committed to finishing the job this year. While we know there’s a lot
of work left to be done, we’ve already made incredible
progress on a tough issue. We’re closer than ever before to
enacting legislation that gives older women access to the
affordable quality health insurance they need. The President’s plan will
strengthen Medicare, bring down the costs of
prescription drugs and put some theirness back in
the insurance system. It will ensure that older women
are no longer forced to dig deep into their own pockets to
afford the care that they need. And it will emphasize preventive
care that can help keep us out of the doctor’s office and the
hospital in the first place. It’s the right plan for women
and the right plan for America. But we know enacting these kinds
of fundamental changes won’t be easy. Remember, President
Franklin Roosevelt, the architect of the new deal,
famously pronounced healthcare too much of a challenge and
opted to do the Social Security instead. President Obama has said that
he realizes he is not the first president to try to reform our
healthcare system so that it works for every
American and every woman, but he’s determined
to be the last. (applause) Americans all around this
country, especially women, find they are locked out of
coverage or forced to pay exorbitant prices because they
have a preexisting condition. A recent national survey
estimated that over the last three years roughly a third of
adults under the age of 65 who tried to buy health insurance in
the individual insurance market were discriminated against
because of a preexisting condition. We know that has happened to
some of you who are here today. It’s wrong, and the President’s
committed to ending this discrimination. Even if you have
insurance, you’re struggling. Americans with health insurance
at work have seen their out-of-pocket cost sky rocket. In the last decade people who
get their insurance through their jobs have seen their
out-of-pocket costs triple. Americans all over the country
have found themselves facing tens of thousands of dollars
in debt, or even bankruptcy, because there was no limit on
their plan’s out-of-pocket expenses. We know that some of you lose
sleep every night thinking about the bills from the hospital
and the doctors’ offices. That won’t happen
with health reform. Last year millions
of American seniors, folks who are
covered by Medicare, found themselves paying
thousands of dollars for prescription drugs because they
fell into that gap in coverage known as the donut hole. Some of you know firsthand what
it’s like to fall into that gap. The president is committed to
providing you relief from those frightening costs as part
of health insurance reform. Here with us today are some
women who have experienced the unfair and arbitrary world that
is America’s healthcare system today. Kelly Adair Bollinger,
Fran Garfinkle, and Judy Stein have joined us
today to tell their stories, and they and the millions of
Americans like them are the reason why President Obama and
his entire team are so committed to enacting health
insurance reform. I know it’s easy for some of us
in Washington to get distracted in the back and forth. Sometimes it’s tempting to
focus on the political fights and the overheated rhetoric. But at the end of the day,
this isn’t about politics; it’s about women
like Kelly, Fran, Judy and millions of Americans
like them across the country. They are the people President
Obama is fighting for, and they’re the reason why
we’re determined to succeed. We’re honored that they’ve
agreed to share their stories today, and it’s my privilege
to introduce them to you now. Kelly, I think you’re first. (applause) Kelly Bollinger:
Hi. Good afternoon. I’d like to start by thanking
Mrs. Obama and the White House for holding this event
and for inviting me to share my story with you. I’m honored to be here, but this
story is still painful for me to tell. Four years ago, my husband and I
were on the tail end of raising three amazing daughters. Our youngest was a freshman in
college and we were looking forward to the next
phase of our lives. Those plans quickly changed when
my husband had a heart attack and suffered complications. My husband was consequently
permanently disabled, and he had to leave his job. With that, we lost not only the
income but the health insurance plan that we had all
been enrolled in. As though that weren’t enough,
this all happened on the heals of our college age middle
daughter, still a dependent, and still on our
health insurance plan, having been diagnosed with a
rare but treatable thyroid cancer. Given my husband and daughter’s
serious health issues, we knew that if either
of them lost coverage, we would never again be able
to afford a private policy, and even if we could, it
would not cover their serious preexisting conditions. Fortunately, I was able to
purchase a health insurance plan through my job, just before my
husband’s insurance expired, and therefore insure
continual coverage for my husband and for my daughter. The problem was that the
premiums and co-pays that we pay with the insurance plan we get
through the small nonprofit organization where
I work are much, much higher than what we paid
for our previous insurance through my husband’s employer. These high premiums, co-pays,
outrageous prescription medicine co-pays, travel out-of-state to
treat our daughter’s very rare cancer and loss of my husband’s
income led to a perfect storm financially, which ended up
bankrupting my husband and I. We would have lost our home
had my husband not eventually become eligible for
disability benefits. We are now halfway through
our five year bankruptcy, and we’ve managed to make
the payments on time. However, the bankruptcy payments
and our outrageous health insurance premiums
consume two-thirds of my monthly take home pay. The good news is that
our daughter has survived and is doing well. She’s actually here today. (applause) All three of my amazing
daughters are here today. And my husband, while still
disabled, is stabilized. This is a difficult
story for me to share. This sort of thing wasn’t
supposed to happen to us. My husband and I are both
Masters’ educated professionals, and we have both worked
full-time our entire adult lives in careers that give
back to our community. We did everything you
are supposed to do. And when we needed
the coverage the most, the health insurance
system failed us. I’m grateful to be here
today to share my story, which I’m sure is many
other people’s story too. I’m a middle-aged woman
who is a professional, who raised a family
while working full-time, who has been married over
30 years to a husband who is also a working professional. And at age 52, I am working now
almost exclusively to pay our ongoing medical bills and the
bankruptcy fees that are largely due to past medical bills. If bankruptcy due to
unexpected medical costs, loss of employer sponsored
health coverage and loss of income can happen to
people like my family, it can happen to anyone. I truly hope the reform we seek
will prevent my story from being repeated. Thank you so much. (applause) Fran Garfinkle:
Good afternoon. My name is Fran Garfinkle,
and I thank the First Lady for inviting me here today to
give my healthcare story. I hope that my healthcare story
will help others to understand the pitfalls and predicaments
that older women face when their health starts to fall and
their medical coverage fails. In my case, I am 70 years old
and throughout most of my life, I’ve worked full-time
alongside of my husband, Eddie. We were independent
business owners, at one time running our
own craft galleries, and we then later marketed gift
lines to other gift stores. We had no pension plans, and we
pay for private health insurance on our own until we
qualified for Medicare. We consider ourselves
pretty fortunate. We still own the home, same home
that we bought 42 years ago. We raised two wonderful
children, sent them to college, and even brought my
mother-in-law to live with us for the 25 years
before her death. We have always taken good care
of ourselves, eating right, staying active, and being
blessed with pretty good health. We retired two years ago
and began collecting Social Security. We continue to work part-time
doing an art outreach program for special needs populations,
which not only gives us joy but also gives us a
little extra income. Then, in November of 2007, I
got the awful news I had breast cancer. You can probably guess
what happened next. Surgery, chemotherapy,
radiation therapy, medication, but I never guessed
that after all of that, I would end up facing a
different kind of healthcare scare, the Medicare
part D donut hole. This past July when I went
to filmy prescription for an anti-estrogen medication that I
will need to take for another three and a half years more, the
pharmacist told me that I was in the donut hole and would have
to pay for the medication on my own. I was floored. The three month supply of just
this one drug cost me $1,100. And on top of that, I’d
have to pay the full price for the other prescription
medications that I needed. I couldn’t believe that I was
left to fend for myself at the very time when I
could use the help. Our expenses were
already pretty hefty. How was I going to pay for this? I researched other alternatives,
like contacting the drug company that makes this particular
medicine to see if they would help me. I asked my oncologist
office about samples. It is such an expensive drug
that free samples are not available. There is no generic equivalent. And I don’t qualify for any
drug assistance programs. I was truly on my own. I can’t stop taking
the medication, yet being on a fixed income,
something had to give so that I can pay for it. So my husband and I have
had to trim, cut back, consolidate and eliminate. If it isn’t
absolutely necessary, it is not in our budget. We even rented out my
mother-in-law’s former space to help pay our property taxes. There’s just no wiggle
room left in our budget. This is not what I had planned
for for our later years after working so hard all
our earlier years, and I definitely never imagined
that when I faced a life threatening illness my drug
coverage would let me down. I am still in the donut hole,
and I know that next year I’ll fall into it again, and
probably a little sooner. That’s pretty scary to me,
because I can now understand what I’ve heard so many
times from other women. One serious health setback,
and your home, your savings, your job, everything is at risk
of being lost due to healthcare expenses. Hopefully my husband and I can
continue to work part-time to help pay our bills. Hopefully, I will be cancer free
for the remainder of my life, and Eddie and I will be able to
stay well so that we can avoid costly situations like
the part D donut hole. Hopefully they will find
a cure for breast cancer, and hopefully congress will soon
pass healthcare reform that closes the part D donut hole
and gives older women and all citizens the help they
need to be healthy. Thank you. (applause) Judy Stein:
Good afternoon. I’m Judy Stein, and it will
maybe surprise you that we didn’t hear other’s stories
before I begin to tell mine today, because the
themes are so similar. Thank you so much, Mrs. Obama,
for having us here today to tell them. Like many of you, I am a mother
of two wonderful daughters, one of whom wanted this to
be, “Bring your daughter to workday.” (laughter) A wife, a daughter, and now
amazingly, a grandmother. I’m healthy; I tend not to catch
the various viruses that run through my office and community. Like Kelly, I exercise, eat
a largely vegetarian diet, live an engaged life and get the
recommended medical and dental checkups. So, like Fran, I was taken by
surprise when I was diagnosed with stage two breast
cancer four years ago. I had had a mammogram
just a few months earlier. But the bottom line is, as
you’ve heard, stuff happens. We’re all humans, and
human beings get sick, even when they do the right
things and take care of themselves. From a person who
rarely saw doctors, I became a full-time patient
and a full-time wife, mother and lawyer. Even now, four years later, I’m
involved with treatments and tests for more than I’d like. It’s simply silly to suggest
that people over utilize healthcare because they
have health insurance. Yes, fortunately, my insurance
covered most of my care, but many of the tests and
procedures are painful, and as many of us know too
well, the medications have dreadful side effect. No one would choose this. On the other hand, a lack of
insurance authorization almost led me to skip important care. When it looked like my
insurance would not cover them, I seriously considered foregoing
some painful abdominal injections that I needed to
keep my white blood counts up. At $800 each, $777 and
some cents, to be precise, I thought I’d wait to see if I
got sick is before continuing with the shots,
which were daily. However, because I knew
how to pursue an appeal, I obtained authorization and
proceeded with the injections. A good decision, since I almost
need add transfusion even with them. I continue now to be faced with
decisions about the follow-up treatment and insurance
coverage obstacles that I face. Most recently, my oncologist
recommended my scheduled, a scheduled MRI, because my
insurance has been rejecting claim for my MRI’s,
she reconsidered it. Since my cancer was found after
a mammogram and I can’t take certain therapies I would
otherwise be provided, my initial tumor was found,
as I said, after a mammogram. It’s dangerous for me
to go without the MRI, and in the long-term, likely to
lead to more expensive care for me and the system. I had to urge my doctor to make
the best medical decision for me and to leave the
insurance battles to me, but if I were not a lawyer who
has been fighting for proper health insurance for other
people for 30 years, I might not be getting
the treatments I need. My story, as you hear, is only
different from everyone else’s because I do have
insurance, and I’m a lawyer, and the founder and executive
director of the Center For Medicare Advocacy. We represent older and disabled
people with the focused mission to ensure fair access to
Medicare and quality healthcare. We’re all affected as well. My diagnosis and treatment
history impacts my organization’s insurance rates. I have 30 covered employees,
and I pay over $400,000 a year for insurance,
and we are a nonprofit. We are further, unable to switch
to other certain less costly plans because of my
preexisting condition. We all get sick,
we all get injured, but we don’t all have insurance,
and we aren’t all healthcare lawyers. All women, all people
need healthcare, and we all need
help paying for it. This is particularly
a women’s issue, because we live longer than men
with more chronic conditions, and because we are also often
primary caregivers for our kids, our spouses and our parents,
all of whom also get sick. I’m telling my story, because
I’m told it may help; tells yours too. We need to make our voices heard
now for healthcare reform. We need quality health coverage,
including a public option. (applause) We need it now. I know this as a
woman, a patient, and through my work as
a healthcare advocate. Thank you so much. (applause) Nancy-Ann_DeParle:
I want to thank you Kelly,
Fran and Judy, and Judy, it does help, it helps us
remember why this work is so important and that it’s urgent
that we get health insurance reform passed this year. I now have the honor of
introducing one of this administration’s greatest
champions of health insurance reform. Since becoming our first
lady, Michelle Obama has been dedicated to improving the
health of the American people. She’s focused on how we can
ensure our children live healthier, happier lives. She’s encouraged us all, no
matter how old or how young to stay active, and I think we all
know she does a mean hula hoop. She has been a handout spoken
voice for health insurance reform. She’s met with women and
families from across the country and heard their stories. She’s told her own story and
spoken not just as first lady, but as a wife,
mother and daughter. She’s committed to making
our country healthier, and it’s my great honor to
introduce the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. (applause) Mrs. Obama:
Thank you, everybody. Thanks 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 that 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 by 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% 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
would 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 grows worse when you
get older, making quality, affordable coverage
harder to come by — 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% 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 that 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 you, 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’ll 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 also 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 more secure. By eliminating wasteful
subsidies to private insurance and cracking down on fraud and
abuse throughout the system — (applause) — 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 that 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. So what we’re talking about — (applause) — 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)

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