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In case you missed it, on Friday the First Lady spoke with clarity and conviction to 140 women's health advocates on how health insurance reform impacts women and families. She also highlighted women's crucial role in making sure reform is passed. As a young woman working to improve the health of women and girls, I was honored to take part in the event. Before the First Lady spoke, three women shared their stories of battling the health insurance system after getting sick or losing a loved one. While the circumstances of Debi, Easter, and Roxi were different, their collective suffering inflicted by the current system made it clear that the status quo is inadequate and unacceptable -- a point emphasized by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in her introductory remarks.
The First Lady started by reminding us of the deeply personal nature of health insurance reform. She too had experienced the pivotal role of health insurance in moments when her father and infant daughter became ill. Framing health insurance reform as a women's issue, the First Lady described the many unique ways in which the health care debate affects women. Women shoulder the burden of making health care decisions for their families, and women need routine screening and care, such as pap smears and mammograms, that may not be covered by insurance. The health insurance system also discriminates against women, as having a C-section or experiencing domestic violence can be used as reasons to deny coverage. Finally, women pay more for health insurance, but earn less than men.
As the First Lady noted, women across the United States are being crushed by the current structure of our health care. Surrounded by individuals who have paved the way for women to reach higher and achieve more, I realized that now is the time for younger women to step up and voice our need for a more just system. At the conclusion of the First Lady's speech, I felt energized and ready to redouble our efforts to pass health insurance reform.
Margaret Chen is Special Assistant to the White House Council on Women and Girls