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National Partnership for Women and Families Luncheon

Washington, DC
June 24, 2010

Thank you, Debra, for that nice introduction. And thank you to the National Partnership for Women and Families for this lovely award. It’s great to be here with you today.

For almost 40 years, the National Partnership for Women and Families has been a champion for equal rights and opportunities for women. Thanks in no small part to your efforts, those years have brought significant progress.

I was just entering the workforce when the National Partnership launched. At that time, there were huge areas of the workforce that were off-limits to women. And when women and men did work side-by-side, there were huge gaps in pay.

I think back to 1986 when I was first elected to the Kansas House of Representatives. Back then, State Houses tended to come with glass ceilings to go along with the domes.

There weren’t many other women members or leaders. And the men in charge had identified certain “women’s issues.” For example, I could take the lead on a child care bill. Or run the Education Committee.

But I definitely couldn’t chair the Tax Committee or the Budget Committee. That was regarded as men’s work.

Today, thanks to your hard work, many of those barriers have broken down. Just look at my colleagues in President Obama’s Cabinet.

These are the quote-unquote “women’s issues” today: international affairs, homeland security, jobs, the economy, health care. And we have a man running the Education Department.

I get reminded of the progress we’ve made every day when I get into work.

Our staff lead for implementing the Affordable Care Act – one of the most important pieces of legislation in the last few decades – is a woman.

Our top official in charge of planning for and responding to public health emergencies and attacks is a woman.

The acting administrator of the world’s largest insurer – the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – is a woman.

Altogether, our Department has 11 agencies, and eight of them are led by women – from the Food and Drug Administration to the Administration on Children and Families to the Indian Health Services.

And I’m now the fourth woman to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

So I don’t have to look far to see evidence of the gains we’ve made over the last few decades.

But I also know, as you do, that we have a long way left to go.

The National Partnership has always understood that women’s advancement is not just a matter of what happens in a workplace. There are other crucial factors, including health. That’s why you played such an instrumental role in passing the Affordable Care Act.

And today, I want to use my time to give you an update on that reform effort. Despite all the media coverage over the last 12 months, the benefits for women in this law haven’t really gotten much attention.

And that’s unfortunate because when you look at the full range of women’s health needs and the full range of reforms in this new law, the Affordable Care Act is the best women’s health bill since Medicare.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, whether you just graduated from college, get insurance through your job, or are on Medicare, this law is going to give you more control over your health care.

It’s going to help young women. Under the status quo, women in their twenties could pay 50 percent more than men for the exact same health insurance.

They paid more, but they didn’t always get more. In fact, the coverage they got was often insufficient. Eighty percent of plans in the individual market didn’t cover maternity care. Many didn’t cover contraceptives either, which women use more than any other prescription drug.

Given how many women use this care, that’s like not covering treatment for the flu.

So one of the things the Affordable Care Act does is bring some fairness to our health insurance market so women have better health care choices.

First, it makes it illegal to charge women extra for health insurance. That practice will end. Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition!

Second, it will create a new, consumer-friendly health insurance market where all new plans will be required to cover essential health benefits like newborn care and maternity care

Third, it eliminates co-pays for key preventive services like pap smears and mammograms.

Thanks to this law, women are no longer going to have to put off breast cancer screenings, taking the risk that their cancer could be caught late – when chances of survival can be as low as 23 percent – instead of early – when the survival rate is 98 percent.

So if you’re a young woman looking to buy health insurance, you’re going to have much better choices.

But the Affordable Care Act is also going to help moms.

We know that women are more likely to be uninsured and underinsured. For all the progress women have made in the workplace, less than half of women today have the option of getting health insurance through their employer.

That means we often end up having to buy a plan on our own. If you tried to do that recently, you know it wasn’t a very consumer-friendly experience.

This is a market where insurance companies had most of the power. If your child has asthma, they could deny them coverage. If you had a breast cancer diagnosis, they could deny you coverage.

Sometimes, they could even deny you coverage if you had been a victim of domestic violence. That was considered a preexisting condition.

But even if you were lucky enough to get insurance, that didn’t mean your problems were over. Insurance companies could still put an annual or lifetime limit on your benefits, essentially saying: “you have health security unless you get really sick.”

Some of you may have thought the purpose of insurance was to give you security if you got really sick, but for too many women, that wasn’t the case.

And here’s the worst part: even if you had insurance, paid to get the full benefits you needed, sent your bill in every month, insurance companies could still cancel your coverage if you got sick. All they needed to do was find one mistake in your paperwork.

With the Affordable Care Act, we’re putting women back in control.

Earlier this week, the President announced a new Patient’s Bill of Rights that will make sure you get the security you pay for when you buy insurance.

Starting this fall, it will no longer be legal to deny coverage to kids because they have a preexisting condition. In 2014, we’ll extend the same protection to all Americans.

Next, we’re going to make sure your coverage is there when you need it by ending rescissions, ending lifetime limits on benefits, and phasing out annual limits on benefits. These practices will end.

Finally, we’ll protect your choice of doctors, including making sure women can visit their OB-GYNs without a referral and making sure your co-payments don’t rise if you get taken to an emergency room that’s not in your insurance network.

These rules are about basic fairness. They say that if you hold up your part of the deal, your insurance company has to hold up their end too.

And they mean that beginning this fall, our health insurance markets are going to be a lot more friendly for consumers, especially women.

But from the start, this law has been about more than improving health insurance.

It’s also been about making sure Americans get better care at a better price by promoting quality and cutting waste and fraud, especially in Medicare.

That’s why the Affordable Care Act is also such an important law for older women.

Because women tend to live longer, we also rely more on Medicare. We’re a majority of Medicare beneficiaries, and we make up seven out of ten Medicare beneficiaries over the age of 85.

That means no one has a bigger interest in strengthening Medicare than we do.

And that’s exactly what the Affordable Care Act does.

It gives law enforcement new resources and new tools to crack down on health care fraud.

It closes the donut hole starting this year to help seniors afford their medications.

Perhaps most importantly, it starts to change the way we deliver care.

Nearly half of women in Medicare have three or more chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease.

That means they’re usually seeing multiple doctors a month, taking a handful of medications a day, and often, as you just heard from Regina, these doctors aren’t talking to each other.

So part of what the Affordable Care Act does is create powerful incentives so that more doctors to start delivering the kind of coordinated, patient-centered care that has been shown to get the best results.

Electronic health records are a key part of this. We just heard the worse case from Regina of what can happen when doctors and patients can’t share information. Unfortunately, her story is not uncommon.

That’s why our Administration has made a historic investment in health information technology. And we appreciate your support as we work to develop meaningful use standards that will make sure we’re using these tools to improve patient care.

As we make these changes, women will be the ones driving them. We make up the majority of the health care workforce, which puts us on the front lines of patient care.

And over the last year and a half, this Administration has also made a huge investment in that workforce from home health workers to specialty doctors to cutting edge researchers.

Finally, we know that the majority of care for older Americans is actually provided by family and friends. And those family members and friends tend to be women.

So if we can do a better job managing chronic conditions and keeping our older Americans healthy, we’ll also be relieving a huge burden on the sandwich generation of women who are often overwhelmed switching between driving kids to soccer practices and parents to doctors’ appointments.

Taken together, these reforms have the potential to give all American women more control over their health care.

But to achieve this potential, we need to make sure we get these reforms right. That’s why I appreciate the work you’re doing through the Campaign for Better Care to organize advocates to push for a more effective health care system.

I can promise you that we in this Administration and in our department are working just as hard to implement this law as quickly and effectively as possible.

And while we deliberately structured this law so that the reforms would phase in gradually without disrupting people’s care, we can already see a better future emerging.

Across the country, there are daughters who might have been going without insurance and taking their chances. Now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, they can stay on their parents’ coverage until they turn 26.

There are grandmothers who might have been deciding which of their prescriptions to skip in order to make rent. Now, it will be easier to afford their medications thanks to the $250 rebate checks that were mailed earlier this month to seniors in the donut hole.

There are moms who may have been worried about whether their small business could afford to keep all their employees given the rising cost of health care. Now, they know they’re eligible for a tax credit this year to help offset the cost of coverage.

After years of feeling like our health care was slipping out of our control, we can finally see better days ahead.

I’m grateful to be honored today by the Partnership for Women and Families – a group that’s been fighting for economic security, work security, and health security for women and their loved ones for four decades.

In the months to come, I look forward to continuing our partnership to build a better health care system where women and all Americans get the security, flexibility, and high quality care they deserve.

Thank you.