In the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden today, Michelle Obama addressed a familiar theme: healthy living. But unlike her healthy kids fair earlier in the week -- where she playfully hula hooped and jumped rope on the South Lawn -- Mrs. Obama sounded a lot like her husband.
“In this country, getting sick shouldn't mean going bankrupt,” she told a crowd of lawmakers and cancer survivors. “If you've already fought cancer, you shouldn't also have to fight with insurance companies to get the coverage that you need at a price that you can afford.”
Mrs. Obama cited a new Department of Health and Human Services report, which found that in 45 states, insurance companies can charge more or deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, like breast cancer. The agency said one in 10 cancer patients reported they could not get insurance because of their illness.
Several cancer survivors who had experienced just that spoke at today’s event, including Joni Lautsdale. The mother of two was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. By 2005, she beat the cancer, only to find that her insurance premiums had tripled.
“I will most likely be cancer free for the rest of my life, but having the word ‘cancer’ written on my medical chart is enough to generate an automatic rejection from insurance coverage,” Lautsdale said.
The first lady said cases like Lautsdale's are unacceptable.
“We have a health care system in this country that simply is not working for too many people with breast cancer and too many people who are surviving with breast cancer,” Mrs. Obama said, “That's why it is so critically important that we finally reform our health care system that is causing so much heartache for so many people affected by this disease. Now is the time.”
“These plans mean insurance companies will no longer be allowed to cap the amount of coverage that you can get, and will limit how much insurance companies can charge you for out-of-pocket expenses,” the first lady said.
Mrs. Obama said health insurance reform is not only about helping women today, but also about helping their daughters and granddaughters.
“I hope that our children and grandchildren won't be able to imagine a time when anyone in this country went bankrupt just because they had the misfortune of getting sick,” she said. “And in the end, that's really what health insurance reform is all about. It's not about us. It's about them. It's about the future. That is what we're fighting for.
As part of her policy push, Mrs. Obama also released a five-minute video, speaking directly to other mothers. In the video, the first lady talks about the meningitis health scare she had with daughter Sasha some years ago, and how much tougher that would have been without insurance. The video is highly produced, with interviews from breast cancer survivors talking about their insurance struggles and video of the first lady at various events.
Mrs. Obama said, “Insurance headaches are something that all of us have had to deal with at some point in our lives. Barack’s plan will make sure that every family gets to have the same peace of mind that we’ve had.”
She later goes on, “Barack’s plan is about insuring that everyone in this country can care for their families, and follow their dreams, and have the chance to make of their lives what they wish. And it’s hard to achieve those dreams if you can’t rely on quality, affordable health insurance. That’s what’s at stake. And that’s what we’re fighting for, that’s what this health care debate is all about. Particularly for women who are raising kids, taking care of families. Talk to your friends. Talk to your neighbors. And let’s get the word out about what’s at stake.”
The White House itself will get the word out on breast cancer awareness tomorrow. Pink ribbons will hang on the columns along the North Portico through the weekend.
FLOTUS Fashion Watch: Mrs. Obama wore a pink, brown and white patterned knee-length pencil skirt, with a brown three-quarter length sleeve top and large brown belt.
-- Yunji de Nies and Karen Travers