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Office of the First Lady

For Immediate Release September 18, 2009



Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Room 450

11:33 A.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you all. Please, sit. Rest. (Laughter.) First
of all, good morning. I am so thrilled to see so many of you here this
morning at the White House. Welcome. And that's including my good friend,
Dr. Dorothy Height. (Applause.) You know, she is always there, for the past
eight months and before. If there was a big event, an important event, she
finds a way to be here. She is my inspiration, and it is wonderful to see you
again today. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

Thank you all for joining us today for the outstanding work you're doing
every day on behalf of women and families all across this country. I have to
thank our extraordinary Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen
Sebelius, for taking the time to be here. (Applause.) And for her tireless
efforts to keep our nation healthy. And that includes not just pushing for
health insurance reform but preparing us for H1N1, pursuing cutting-edge
research to find treatments and cures for tomorrow. Clearly this is not the
easiest portfolio she could have, but she is doing a terrific job, and we are
grateful for her leadership.

And I also want to thank Tina Tchen, who you all know, for emceeing today.
(Applause.) She, too, is doing a fabulous job as Director of our Office of
Public Engagement, and she played a critical role in pulling together today's
event -- not just as an emcee but as a key figurehead, making sure that
we're all aware of what's going on.

And finally, I want to thank the three women behind me -- to Debi, Easter,
and Roxi. (Applause.) It is not easy to come here and tell your story. And
these stories aren't new. You know, these stories are happening all over this
country, not just for thousands of women -- for millions of them. For two
years on the campaign trail, this was what I heard from women, that they
were being crushed, crushed by the current structure of our health care.
Crushed. But these stories that we've heard today, and all of us -- if we're
not experiencing it, we know someone who is. These are the stories that
remind us about what's at stake in this debate. This is really all that
matters. This is why we are fighting so hard for health insurance reform.
This is it. This is the face of the fight.

And that's why I'd like to talk to you today. That's why I'm here. That's why
reform is so critical in this country -- not tomorrow, not in a few years, but
right now. People are hurting in this country right now.

But there is also a reason why I invited this particular group to talk today.
There's a reason why we've invited the leaders not only from family
advocacy groups and health care advocacy groups, but for so many
organizations that have been fighting for decades for empowerment for
women. And that's because when it comes to health care, as the Secretary
said, as we all know, women play a unique and increasingly significant role in
our families. We know the pain, because we are usually the ones dealing
with it.

Eight in 10 women, mothers, report that they're the ones responsible for
choosing their children's doctor, for getting them to their checkups, for
managing that follow-up care. Women are the ones to do it. Mothers are the
ones that do it. And many women find themselves doing the same thing for
their spouses. (Laughter.) And more than 10 percent of women in this
country are currently caring for a sick or elderly relative. It's often a parent,
but it could a grandparent, or a mother -- or a relative of some sort -- but it's
often a parent. So they're making critical health care decisions for those
family members as well.

In other words, being part of the sandwich generation, is what we are now
finding, raising kids while caring for a sick or elderly parent, that's not just a
work/family balance issue anymore. It's not just an economic issue
anymore. More and more it is a health care issue. It's something that I have
thought a great deal about as a mother.

I will never forget the time eight years ago when Sasha was four months that
she would not stop crying. And she was not a crier, so we knew something
was wrong. So we fortunately were able to take her to our pediatrician that
next morning. He examined her and same something's wrong. We didn't
know what. But he told us that she could have meningitis. So we were
terrified. He said, get to the emergency room right away.

And fortunately for us, things worked out, because she is now the Sasha that
we all know and love today -- (laughter) -- who is causing me great --
excitement. (Laughter.)

But it is that moment in our lives that flashes through my head every time
we engage in this health insurance conversation. It's that moment in my
life. Because I think about what on earth would we have done if we had not
had insurance. What would have happened to that beautiful little girl if we
hadn't been able to get to a pediatrician who was able to get us to an
emergency room? The consequences I can't even imagine. She could have
lost her hearing. She could have lost her life if we had had to wait because
of insurance.

And it was also fortunate that we happened to have good insurance, right?
Because if we hadn't had good insurance, like many of the panelists up here,
we would have been saddled with costs for covering that emergency room
visit for her two days in the hospital. We would have still been paying off
those bills.

And this issue isn't something that I've thought about as a mother. I think
about it as a daughter. As many of you know, my father had multiple
sclerosis. He contracted it in his twenties. And as you all know, my father
was a rock. He was able to get up and go to work every day, even though it
got harder for him as he got sicker and more debilitated. And I find myself
thinking, what would we have done as a family on the South Side of Chicago
if my father hadn't had insurance, if he hadn't been able to cover his
treatments? What would it have done to him to think that his illness could
have put his entire family into bankruptcy? And what if he had lost his job,
which fortunately he never did? What if his company had changed
insurance, which fortunately never happened, and we became one of the
millions of Americans, families, who can't get insurance because of a
preexisting condition?

So these are the thoughts that run through my mind as I watch this debate
and hope that we get it right.

But let's be clear: Women aren't just disproportionately affected by this

issue because of the roles that we play in families. As Tina and Kathleen
mentioned, women are affected because of the jobs that we do in this
economy. We all know that women are more likely to work part-time, or to
work in small companies or businesses that don't provide any insurance at

Women are affected because, as we heard, in many states, insurance

companies can still discriminate because of gender. And this is still shocking
to me. These are the kind of facts that still wake me up at night; that women
in this country have been denied coverage because of preexisting conditions
like having a C-section or having had a baby. In some states, it is still legal to
deny a woman coverage because she's been the victim of domestic violence.

And a recent study showed that 25-year-old women are charged up to 45

percent more for insurance than 25-year-old men for the exact same
coverage. And as the age goes up, you get to 40, that disparity increases to
48 percent -- 48 percent difference for women for the exact same coverage
in this country.

But it's not just women without insurance, as we've heard, as we know who
are affected. Plenty of women have insurance. But it doesn't cover basic
women's health services like maternity care or preventative care like
mammograms or pap smears, which we all know we have to have. We can't
go without these basic services. But many insurance policies don't even
cover it.

Or policies cap the amount of coverage that you can receive, as you've
heard, or it drops coverage when people get sick and they really need the
care. Or maybe people have coverage but they're worried about losing it if
they lose their jobs or if they change jobs or if the company changes
insurance carriers. Out-of-pocket costs get higher and higher. It's hard to be
able to plan your monthly bills when you don't know what your premiums are
going to be. So a lot of people find they have to drop their insurance
because they can no longer afford it.

Just think about it. Many women are being charged more in health care
coverage, but as we all know, women are earning less. We all know that
women earn 78 cents on the dollar to every men -- to a man. So it's not
exactly surprising when we hear statistics that more than half of women
report putting off needed medical care simply because they can't afford it.

Now, we have trouble putting ourselves first when we have the resources --
just making the appointment when you have insurance to get your regular
screenings, to take care of those illnesses, those bumps and lumps and pains
that we tend to ignore. But then not to be able to do it because you can't
have insurance, you don't have insurance -- it's not surprising that so many
millions of women around this country are simply going without insurance at

See, and the thing that we all know is that the current state -- this current
situation is unacceptable. It is unacceptable. (Applause.) No one in this
country should be treated that way. It's not fair. It's not right. And these are
hard-working people we're talking about, right? People who care about their
kids, care about their lives. And these circumstances could happen to any of
us. This is one of those, "There but for the grace of God go I" kind of
situations. None of us are exempt -- ever.

So I think it's clear that health insurance reform and what it means for our
families is very much a women's issue. It is very much a women's issue.

And if we want to achieve true equality for women, if that is our goal; if we
want to ensure that women have opportunities that they deserve, if that is
our goal; if we want women to be able to care for their families and pursue
things that they could never imagine, then we have to reform the system.
We have to reform the system. The status quo is unacceptable. It is holding
women and families back, and we know it.

Fortunately, that is exactly what my husband's plan proposes to do, and it's
important for us to understand some of the basic principles of that plan.
Under his plan, if you don't have insurance now, or you lose your insurance
at some point in the future, you'll be able to purchase affordable coverage
through an insurance exchange -- a marketplace with a variety of options
that will let you compare prices and benefits. This is exactly the approach
that is used to provide members of Congress with insurance. So the thought
is that if it's good enough for members of Congress, it should be good
enough for the people who vote them in. (Applause.)

And this is also an important part of the plan. If you already have insurance
-- and it seems that there are a lot of people who are worried that they'll lose
what they have under this plan -- but under this plan, if you already have
insurance, you're set. Nothing changes. You keep your insurance, you keep
your doctors -- and you're blessed. (Laughter.) This plan just puts in place
some basic rules of the road to protect you from the kinds of abuses and
unfair practices that we've heard.

Under this plan, insurance companies will never again be allowed to deny
people like Debi and her son coverage for preexisting conditions. Sounds like
a good thing. So whether you have breast cancer, diabetes, asthma, or
hypertension -- or even just had a C-section, or some mental health
treatment that you had in your past -- none of that will be a reason to refuse
you coverage under the plan that my husband is proposing. Because when
you're fighting an illness, he believes that you shouldn't also have to be in
the process of fighting the insurance companies at the same time.
(Applause.) It's a basic idea.

Under this plan, insurance companies will no longer be able to drop your
coverage when you get too sick, or refuse to pay for the care that you need,
or to set a cap on the amount of coverage that you can get. And it will limit
how much they can charge you for out-of-pocket expenses, because getting
sick in this country shouldn't mean that you go bankrupt. That's a basic
principle of this plan.

And finally, this plan will require insurance companies to cover basic
preventative care. Seems simple. (Applause.) From routine checkups, to
mammograms, to pap smears -- and this would come at no extra charge to
the patient, so folks like Roxi can get the chance to get the kind of
screenings that she needs to save her life, because we already know that if
we catch diseases like cancer early -- we know this -- it's much less costly to
treat, and we might just be able to save some lives. We know this.
So, under this plan, we can save lives and we can save money. It's not just
good medicine but it's good economics as well.

So I think this is a pretty reasonable plan. I don't know about you.

(Applause.) But I know many of you believe it's a good plan as well. And I
know that many of the groups that you represent believe that what we're
doing here, this fight, is important. It's important to this country, it's
important to women, it's important to families that we succeed.

And now more than ever, as Tina said, as Secretary Sebelius said, we need to
act. No longer can we sit by and watch the debate take on a life of its own.
It is up to us to get involved, because what we have to remember is that now
more than ever, we have to channel our passions into change.

That's nothing that you all haven't done before, right? (Laughter.) You all
have been the driving force behind so many of our greatest health care
achievements, whether it's been children's health insurance; to funding
breast cancer research, stem cell research; to passing the Family Medical
Leave Act. The folks in this room, you're the ones that made those phone
calls, right? That you wrote those letters, you knocked on those doors.
You're the ones that helped make that happen.

And that's exactly what we need you to do today for health insurance
reform. We are going to need you over the next few weeks to mobilize like
you've never mobilized before. We need you to educate your members
about what the plan really is and what it isn't, because education is the key
to understanding, and it's going to take phone calls to explain, to talk things
through, to make sure that people understand not just what's at stake but
what this all means.

And we know there will be all sorts of myths and misconceptions about what
the plan is and isn't, so it's so important that you make sure that people
know the facts, and at least they make their decisions based on the truth of
what this plan is and isn't. We need you to make your voices heard right
here in Washington. And you all know how to do that. (Laughter.)

And no, it won't be easy, because there are always folks who are a little
afraid of change. We all understand that. We talked about this all during the
campaign. Change is hard. Sometimes the status quo, even if it isn't right,
feels comfortable because it's what we know. So it is understandable that
people are cautious about moving into a new place in this society. There will
always be folks who will want things to stay just the way they are, to settle
for the world as it is. We talked about that so much. This is one of those

But look, I am here today, standing before you as the First Lady of the United
States of America, because you all didn't settle for the world as it is, right?
(Applause.) You refused to settle. And as a result of many of your efforts, as
a young girl, I was able to dream in ways that I could have never imagined,
that my mother could never have imagined, that my grandmother could
never have imagined. And thanks to so many of you, I am raising these
beautiful young women, you know -- (applause) -- who are going to be able
to think so differently about their place in the world because of the work that
you've done.

Health care reform is part of that movement. Health insurance reform is the
next step. So we're going to need you all, focused and clear, picking up the
phones, talking, calling, writing your congressmen and women, making this
something that is the highest priority for all of us, so that we can make sure
that every single family in this country can move forward as we hope that
they can; that they don't have to worry about whether they can insure
themselves. They don't have to worry about whether their kids are going to
break an arm. That's what kids do, they break stuff. (Laughter.)

So I am grateful for all of you, for the work that you've done, and for what I
know that we can do together over the next several weeks. But we have to
be, what, fired up and what?

AUDIENCE: Ready to go!

MRS. OBAMA: And ready to go. A little fired up and ready to go. So thank
you so much. God bless you all, and God bless America. (Applause.)

11:57 A.M. EDT

Video of Michelle Obama's Speech on health care and women