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White House Briefing for the National Association of Black Journalists

Washington, DC
April 4, 2013

Thank you, Cindy, for that introduction. And a special thanks to Maurice Foster, Executive Director of the NABJ, and all of you for being here, especially during National Minority Health Month. It’s great to speak with you again.

I know you’ve already heard from Valerie Jarrett and a great panel about the transformation happening in our health care system today. It’s the biggest in 50 years and nowhere will the transformation be felt more than in communities of color.

So I want to thank you all for taking the time to participate today.  Your voices on this topic, at this time, could not be more valuable. I know you’ve received a lot of information already, so I’ll make just two points and then spend the rest of the time answering your questions.

First, you’ve heard today about the Administration’s broad-based approach to tackling health care disparities in America.  This is the approach we believe we need to take.

It includes increasing access to care by bringing thousands more doctors and nurses to the neighborhoods that need them most through investments in community health centers and workforce programs.  It includes an historic effort to promote active lifestyles and healthy eating through the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative.

It includes a National HIV/AIDS Strategy to focus more resources on the communities that are seeing higher transmission and infection rates. It includes the broad agenda the President has put forward to reduce gun violence, which takes the lives of too many of our young people. And it includes a first-of-its-kind Disparities Action Plan that’s charged every agency, office, and program at our department with asking what they can do to reduce health disparities.

All of these steps are critical in building healthier families and healthier communities. But it’s important to keep in mind that there’s probably no bigger step we can take to improve health care in African American communities than expanding access to health insurance.

And health insurance is not only important for family budgets.  It’s essential for good health.

Americans with health insurance get more preventive screenings – from mammograms to cholesterol tests – that help catch the small problems before they become bigger ones.  They’re more likely to visit a primary care doctor to receive regular check-ups and get help managing their chronic conditions.

Being insured also leads to better health across a range of outcomes, including better mental health and longer life expectancy.

So the opportunity we have to expand health insurance to millions of African Americans under the Affordable Care Act is also a huge opportunity to improve their overall health. And you can help ensure that people understand this.

Too often when we’re talking about health coverage, whether it’s the new Marketplaces being created under the law or proposals to expand Medicaid programs, the conversations are just about budgets and finances.  Those factors are important, and it’s true that expanding health insurance has a wide range of economic benefits.

But expanding health insurance is first and foremost about health.  It’s about ensuring a quality of life so young people can be healthy at school and excel at their studies, so parents can stay healthy and  provide for their families, so grandparents can watch their grandkids grow up.

We need your help to make sure when we talk about health insurance, we don’t just talk about the “insurance” part.  We also need to talk about the “health” part. That’s the first point I want to make.

The second point is that when it comes to the parts of the law that are expanding and strengthening health insurance, you have a critical role in educating the public.

Already, the African-American community is seeing huge benefits because of the law. More than 7 million African Americans with private insurance can now get preventive services for free, ranging from blood pressure and cholesterol tests to cancer screenings and flu shots.  Four and half million elderly and disabled African Americans on Medicare also have access to free preventive screenings, including wellness and prevention plans.  And more than 500,000 young African Americans, who would otherwise be uninsured, are now insured through their parents’ plan.

But we know that with all the misinformation that’s been spread about the law, there are still a lot of people who aren’t taking advantage of these benefits because they simply don’t know about them.  There are still plenty of women with private insurance who aren’t getting a mammogram because they’re unaware they can get one without a copay. There are still plenty of young people who are still uninsured because they’re unaware they can stay on their parents’ plan.

As trusted voices, you can help make sure people understand what the law means for them.

And that’s going to be especially true over the next year when millions of African Americans will have new opportunities to gain affordable health coverage through new Marketplaces and expanded state Medicaid programs.

We know there are a lot of people who may not be paying a lot of attention to these new coverage options.

A big share of the uninsured is young and healthy.  If you have children in their twenties like I do, you know that getting health insurance is not always the first priority for this group.  I don’t know what their first priority is, but it certainly isn’t insurance.

Then there are small business owners or people struggling to pay for basic coverage who simply don’t believe that affordable coverage will ever be within reach for themselves or their employees.

Over the last few months, I’ve been traveling the country and meeting with small business owners, community and church leaders, most recently in Chicago and Philadelphia, to talk about what the law means to them, their families, and communities of color. Everywhere I’ve seen firsthand how people are eager to know exactly how these coverage options will work and how people can take advantage of them.

With open enrollment in the new Marketplaces starting just months from now on October 1st, your reporting and educating will be critical for getting that information in people’s hands.

So thank you all again for being here.

Sherice Perry Dillard of my press staff is here. I encourage you to reach out to her or to any of the other leaders here with any questions you have.  We want to be a resource for you on any information you need. I’m also finally on Twitter, so you can follow @Sebelius for updates.

I’ll stop there and take a few questions.