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Remarks of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the African American Health Care Town Hall

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Location: Washington, DC

Good morning. It's great to be here today, and I'm pleased to welcome you all to Washington.

In his State of the Union address a couple of weeks ago, the President spoke about a fundamental belief that lies at the heart of America's greatness. It's a belief that if you're willing to work hard, you should be able to earn a decent living, provide for your family, and contribute to your community. It's a belief that when more people have the chance to pursue their dreams, it doesn't just help them--it makes our whole country stronger. It's a belief that America does best when opportunity is widely available, not confined to an elite few.

Now, there have been many times in our country's history when we've struggled to live up to that belief. But our greatest progress as a country has always come at those moments when we've reached for that ideal.

And that's what the Affordable Care Act is all about. You've already heard an overview of how that law is making a difference for Americans. But I wanted to share two of the stories I've heard over the last few years that help put a face on some of these statistics.

Ashley is a 25-year-old law student in Miami. She's one of those young people who gives you faith in the future of our country. She's smart, capable, and wants to devote her career to issues of social justice. And she's able to get the training she needs because she's one of the more than 3 million young people who have been able to stay on their parents' health plan. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Ashley can build her future around her dreams without having to worry about whether she can afford health coverage.

Vanessa is a nurse working in Tampa. Her son David was born with several birth defects, and even though she had what she thought was great coverage, Vanessa found herself fighting with her insurance company after they informed her that David would no longer be covered because he hit his million-dollar limit. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, those lifetime limits will be gone. And no one will be discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition.

There are millions of these stories happening all across America. And as you've heard today, this fall we're going to have an opportunity to change so many more lives, as we expand coverage for millions of Americans through new Marketplaces and Medicaid expansion.

But while health insurance is essential to good health, it's not enough.

That's why, over the last four years, the Obama Administration has attacked inequality in health from every angle. We're bringing more doctors and nurses to the neighborhoods that need them most by investing in community health centers and workforce programs, including the National Health Service Corps. We've launched an historic effort to promote active lifestyles and healthy eating habits through the First Lady's Let's Move campaign. And we've put in place a new Action Plan that's charged every agency in our department with working to reduce health disparities.

These initiatives, and the tremendous progress provided by the Affordable Care Act, make up the most ambitious strategy in our nation's history for reducing the health disparities that Dr. King called the "most shocking and inhumane" form of injustice. And you're going to hear more about the rest of this all-of-the-above strategy later in today's program.

But there is one thing that unites every part of that strategy: we can't do it without you.

That starts with making sure people get signed up for health coverage. Today, there are a lot of people in your communities who might not be paying attention to what's happening with health insurance, or even to their own health risks. They're thinking about finding a job, or taking care of their children, or enjoying a few hours of free time at the end of the day. Too often, people don't think about taking care of themselves until something goes wrong. And by then, it's too late.

We need you to be trusted messengers. We need you to spread the word about enrolling for health coverage in the Marketplaces this fall.

One thing you can do right away is go to HealthCare.gov and sign up to receive updates about the new health insurance options that will be available on October 1st. That way you'll have all the information you need to educate yourself and your family and friends.

But we're really going to need your help as we get closer to October 1st, when the new Marketplaces will open for enrollment. That's when we'll be counting on you to rally your communities to get signed up for coverage.

And we also need you to be advocates for better health more broadly.

If you want to improve education outcomes, of course you need to be advocates for teachers and school funding. But you also need to be advocates for healthy meals that help kids concentrate on learning.

If you want to improve local economies, of course you need to be advocates for job training programs. But you also need to be advocates for better access to preventive services that improve local health and make your community a more attractive place for someone to start a business.

Improving the health of our country will require action. And that action will need to happen city by city, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block.

If we want to be a country in which everyone has a fair shot at reaching their potential, then we need to ensure that all Americans have an opportunity to live a healthy life.

That won't happen without the help of community leaders like you. And we hope that you'll be out there with us in the months ahead, getting the word out about health, and improving the lives of your friends and neighbors.

Thank you.


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