Talking Health Care at the White House

Marcia Greenberger

While it would be foolhardy to think that all differences on health care reform will magically disappear, the tone at the White House Health Care Summit was constructive and the mood hopeful.

At 12:30 yesterday afternoon, I joined a line of people that had formed by the White House
gate, eager to enter and begin the critically important task of debating and
advancing the effort to achieve health care reform this year. A beautiful, warm
day, the talk was of the thaw in Washington
— and not only regarding the weather. I had the chance to talk with leaders on
health care reform in the House and the Senate, from both parties and with
varying positions and approaches, and to press them and the many others who
were there to address the needs of women and their families. There were close
allies of the National Women’s Law
Center sitting next to
those with whom we do not often agree, trading ideas and business cards.

While it
would be foolhardy to think that all differences will magically disappear, the
tone was constructive (dare I say even friendly), the mood hopeful and the
setting a powerful reminder that the public good must prevail. What was
striking was that a positive tone existed, not only in front of the cameras but
in private conversations throughout the day. Wanting to read it tonight, one
Republican member of the House asked me for my own copy of the Center’s report on the outrageous practice of many
insurance companies to charge women more than men when they buy insurance
directly — even with maternity coverage excluded! This
"gender-rating" practice underscores how unfair and arbitrary the
system can be, and the extra hurdles that women have to overcome.

I would
not underestimate for a minute the monumental effort it will take to get health care reform that
really is affordable, accessible and comprehensive. Nor would I discount how
hard it will be, even with the extraordinary leadership of President Obama and
with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid in support of his approach. But I
left at the end of the day inspired, determined and truly believing that this
really is the time — and that women have a special obligation to speak up and
make sure that we do succeed. That obligation means ensuring that women’s own
health needs, including reproductive health needs, are met, that the families
they care for get the care they need, and that, as the majority of health care
providers in this country, their patients’ concerns are protected.

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