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Michelle Obama Pitches Health Care At Breast Cancer Event

5 years ago
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Everyone was "pink pinned" as First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden -- in a rare dual appearance -- headlined an event Friday marking Breast Cancer Awareness month, with Mrs. Obama prodding Congress to pass a health care bill.
As part of a multimessage front, Mrs. Obama also was the star of a 5 minute, 20 second video aimed at women, talking about the need for health insurance reform. The video, posted prominently at, is titled "Why Health Insurance Reform Matters to Women" and went live on the site just before the FLOTUS and SLOTUS event. (Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is also in the video.)

Some 40,000 women a year die from breast cancer. Linking breast cancer to the ongoing battle the Obama administration is waging for a health care plan, Mrs. Obama said, "We have a health care system in this country that simply is not working for too many people with breast cancer and too many people who are surviving with breast cancer. It's a system that only adds to the fear and stress that already comes with the disease."

Pink is the color of the breast cancer awareness movement and almost everyone at the event in the outdoor Jacqueline Kennedy garden next to the East Wing was wearing some pink.

Dr. Biden was in a pink dress with a pink shawl; Mrs. Obama's skirt was pink highlighted, bonded to her gray shirt with a gray belt so wide it ran from mid-chest to the waist.

Among those present Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); breast cancer survivor Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), who brought her son and two daughters to the event; Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.); Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) as well as dozens of breast cancer survivors and representatives of organizations involved in cancer research and women's issues.

Three survivors spoke, with one of them Joni Lownsdale of Rockford, Ill., a graphic artist, relating her horror story of beating cancer after she was first diagnosed in 2002 only to see her insurance premiums triple -- even though in 2005 she was given a clean bill of health.

Mrs. Obama took the podium and gave a shout out to former First Ladies Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan -- both breast cancer survivors -- for their work on breast cancer.

"They began speaking out. Survivors and those who love them started organizing and advocating and lobbying for more money, for more research, and better treatment for this disease," Mrs. Obama said.

Mrs. Obama discussed a new HHS study on the insurance impact of having breast cancer and a report that found one in 10 cancer patients said they could not get covered because of their pre-existing condition.

Citing the report, Mrs. Obama said, "Breast cancer patients with employer-sponsored insurance paid an average of more than $6,200 in out-of-pocket costs over the course of a year. And some wound up paying as much as $10,000 or $20,000, and 5 percent with private insurance paid more than $30,000 a year for their treatment.

"This is with insurance. These are people who are blessed. And then there are those annual lifetime caps that insurance companies set, where once you go over that cap -- as many women do because some forms of breast cancer are so expensive to treat -- then that cap makes it impossible to pay a penny more for that treatment.

"And one recent survey showed that 10 percent of all cancer patients report hitting a cap on their benefits, leaving them scrambling to find alternative insurance to figure out how to pay out of pocket for the rest of their lifetime. And then there's what happens when you've gone through all the treatment and you're finally in remission, which should be good news. You're finally in remission and you're finally feeling like yourself again. You feel whole and happy."

Referring to the plight of Joni Lownsdale, Mrs. Obama said, "But then, as you've heard, you're stuck, as Joni said, with a target on your back for the rest of your life with a 'pre-existing condition,' which means that insurance companies can deny you coverage or charge you higher rates for coverage -- sometimes much higher."

The House and Senate are getting closer to cutting deals that will let health care legislation advance for floor votes.

Pitching for passage of President Obama's signature domestic issue, Mrs. Obama said it would mean a lot for cancer survivors.

Said Mrs. Obama, "That would mean no more denying coverage to people like women we heard from today because of so-called pre-existing conditions like having survived cancer. Because there's a belief that if you've already fought cancer, you shouldn't have to also fight with insurance companies to get the coverage that you need at a price that you can afford. "

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