the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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What Americans Deserve

Summary: 
Valerie Jarrett offers her perspective on the health care crisis in the African American community and communities across America following BET’s first ever “Leading Women Summit” in Washington, DC.

Today I had the honor of addressing BET’s first ever “Leading Women Summit” in Washington, DC. The Summit brought together artists, community activists, media representatives and professional women from across the country to work on finding solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing the African American community. I welcomed the opportunity to participate and offer my perspective on the health care crisis in our country, which, according to almost every available statistic, disproportionately affects Women of Color.

For instance, consider the following facts:

  • Nearly one in five African Americans (19%) are without health care insurance.
  • African Americans in general spend a higher percentage of their income on health care costs compared to their white counterparts (16.5% vs. 12.2%).
  • African Americans also tend to live in areas where there are fewer hospitals or where quality care cannot be obtained.
  • African Americans suffer from higher percentages of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes, which are perpetuated by a lack of access to quality care. Currently, 48% of African American adults suffer from a chronic disease compared to 39% of the general population.

With this in mind, my talk focused on President Obama’s unwavering commitment to reforming health insurance. He is determined to give Americans, not government or insurers, more control over their care. He has kept fighting against insurance companies that discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. He has kept fighting to reduce the costs of health care for families, businesses and government. He has kept fighting. He has kept fighting for people who are uninsured and small businesses to give them the same coverage as Members of Congress. And now it is time for an up-or-down vote in Congress, because that’s what the people deserve -- people like Leslie Banks and Natoma Canfield.

The President met Leslie at a recent event in Philadelphia after she had written him a letter describing her frustrations with her insurance. Leslie is a self-employed, African-American single mother, whose daughter is a sophomore in college at Temple University. Leslie has type 2 diabetes. She can no longer afford her coverage after the insurer recently notified her of a 100% across the board rate hike and told her that the only way to stay at her previous rate would mean increasing her deductible from $500 to $5,000. Leslie is not available for coverage through her HMO because of her pre-existing condition.

Leslie’s story is not that different from the one I told about Natoma Canfield, who also wrote the President about an incredible increase in her rates, which forced her to drop her coverage. President Obama read the letter at a meeting of insurance industry leaders to show them why he continues to push for reform. Since then, Natoma has been hospitalized with a serious blood disorder and she has no health insurance.

As I related these stories, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of head-nodding in the audience. While nobody at today’s Summit knew Leslie or Natoma, the reality is we all know somebody whose life has been touched by the worst practices of the health insurance industry. That’s why it’s so important that we all work together to tackle this problem for the African American community and for all communities across America.

Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement