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White House Event on Women, Families and Healthcare Reform

NASW Executive Director, Elizabeth J Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH

I attended an event at the White House this morning, September 18, 2009, with First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls Tina Tchen. The focus of this meeting was to discuss the impact of health care reform on women and families. Many important women’s organizations were represented as well as health care reform advocates. The First Lady said that she invited the people who have been “fighting for decades for equality for women.”

I was happy to be able to speak with Dr. Dorothy Height, President Emerita of the National Council of Negro Women and the civil rights legend and social worker we are proud to name the Social Work Reinvestment Act after. The First Lady began her remarks by thanking Dr. Height for attending the meeting and telling her that she is her inspiration.

Several women discussed their own challenges with the healthcare system including burdensome debt from skyrocketing costs, untreated illnesses, and worries for their children and families. The First Lady discussed how this issue disproportionately affects women, as we are not only responsible for most of the family care giving, but also are more likely to work part-time or in small businesses, making insurance unaffordable and inaccessible for many women. Mrs. Obama stated that “women are being crushed by healthcare costs.”

Mrs. Obama discussed the difficult experiences of “sandwich generation” women. NASW has understood the burden of the sandwich generation for quite some time as many women (and many social workers) are tasked with caring for their children and their elderly relatives. Mrs. Obama discussed the implications of this saying, “it’s not a family issue or an economic issue. It’s a healthcare issue.”

With personal anecdotes and stories about her own family, Mrs. Obama communicated an urgency that healthcare reform cannot wait. If women do not receive proper care and treatment, then their families and children will suffer as a result. This situation is untenable for our nation, and in particular for the social work profession as we seek to contribute to healthy individuals, families, and communities. The First Lady ended her remarks with a call to action saying, “Channel our passion into action. Mobilize like we’ve never mobilized before. Educate our members on not just what’s at stake, but what it all means. Make our voices heard right here in DC.” As supporters of universal care for all, we will do just that.

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