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2014 National Nurses Week

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

Washington, D.C.
May 9, 2014

Thank you Dr. Wakefield, and thank you all for joining us here today. It’s a pleasure to be with such a fine representation of nurses from across the country in celebration of National Nurses Week.

This year’s theme is “Nurses: Leading the Way,” and that’s a sentiment I couldn’t agree with more.

Nurses are leaders — not just in delivering health care, but in efforts to improve our health care delivery system as well.

Nurses in Leadership

In fact, today we are joined by such a leader, Polly Bednash, who will be retiring in about a month after nearly 30 years with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

During that time, Polly has been an effective advocate for nursing workforce education and development. She launched both the Commission on Nurse Certification and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. She was also instrumental in creating the National Center for Nursing Research, now the National Institute of Nursing Research.

Polly, you’ve been a tireless leader on behalf of the nursing workforce, and I want to thank you for all that you’ve done.

Polly is a great example of nurses leading the way, but she is not alone. Here at HHS, nurses hold some of our most important management positions.

Dr. Wakefield, whom you all know, heads the Health Resources and Services Administration, and Marilyn Tavenner, also a nurse, is heading the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. They are both integral to our mission here at HHS, and are in charge of tackling some of our biggest and toughest health care challenges.

As public servants or patient advocates, nurses know how to make an impact. They know what it takes to be flexible and versatile. They see the big picture without missing the tiny details. And they certainly know how to excel under pressure.

Growing the Nursing Workforce

That’s why this Administration has done so much to support and grow the nursing workforce through the Affordable Care Act.

For example, community health centers have been able to add thousands of nursing positions and the National Health Service Corps has almost doubled its nurse practitioners and nurse midwives.

And by expanding the Home Visiting program, over 500 nurses are working with at-risk pregnant women and families across the country.

Strengthening the nursing profession strengthens the entire industry, because nurses are the heart of health care—no matter where their expertise lies.

Nurses Influence and The Affordable Care Act

And with the help of such a dedicated group—with your help—we were able to make history this past year: enrolling 8 million Americans in the new Marketplace. And that doesn’t include the millions more who enrolled in Medicaid.

Because of your work, nurses across the country had the resources they needed to talk to patients, friends, and neighbors about their new insurance options. You included Marketplace information in your newsletters, promoted factsheets and videos explaining benefits, and engaged in social media campaigns. With your help, millions were able to find the peace of mind and security that comes with coverage, many for the first time.

A couple of months ago, I joined nurses from across the country on a strategy call, where I met Adriana Perez, an RN from Arizona. She’s an assistant professor at Arizona State University, as well as the Phoenix Chapter President of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses.

Dr. Perez told us how she and other nurses literally took to the streets to get the word out. They visited as many local businesses as they could — like barbershops — in some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in Phoenix. And they encouraged people to sign up.

That kind of dedication to the cause of quality, affordable health coverage is what we’ve come to expect from the hard-working men and women who make up this community.

We see the good work you’ve been doing and we appreciate it. We know we couldn’t have done this without you.

More Work Still to Do

But with all of that said, I want you to know that open enrollment isn’t the end. With all the progress we made, there is still a lot of work to be done.

We are currently engaged in a Coverage to Care campaign to help educate the newly insured on how their coverage works. Nurses could be a huge help in this effort. Resources can be found at, and I hope you will encourage your members to use them and talk with their patients about coverage.

There are also millions who are still uninsured. It’s up to us to educate people who might be eligible for Marketplace plans after qualifying life events or to sign up for Medicaid, which they can do year-round. And there are still 24 states that have not expanded Medicaid, leaving millions in the coverage gap.

And of course, open enrollment will begin again in November, not too far away.

I encourage you all to stay diligent in your efforts to tackle these health care access challenges. With your leadership and engagement, I know we will continue to see success.

Your partnership isn’t just important to us, we depend on it. We depend on you. Thank you for all of your work.

Content created by Assist. Sec./Public Affairs - Speechwriting Division
Content last reviewed on June 13, 2014