Monday, March 1, 2010

Writer Sarah Wildman suggests that one asset President Obama has yet to use in getting health reform over the goal line would be to enlist help from the First Lady. In an engaging piece of “what if” writing, Wildman argues that Mrs. Obama’s enormous popularity gives her a potentially powerful platform to show Americans that health reform is an “apolitical” problem that affects us all.

Wildman is disappointed that the Mrs. Obama stayed in the family garden focusing her time on the important but “safe” First Lady-like issue of childhood obesity.

“At a moment when an entire year's worth of bickering over health care reform has unraveled into a partisan wrestling match, and the very word "reform" has nearly ceased to be meaningful, tackling obesity is cheerfully unobjectionable. Laudable even. But it's not the most important thing on the agenda right now… As a concept it vaguely brushes up against the health care reform debate but without, in reality, getting anywhere close.”

Wildman argues that the First Lady should use her popularity “to get America to understand how very nonpartisan health care reform might be? … The First Lady could have gathered together a task force comprised of a clutch of women -- moms, mostly -- and presented their stories, simply and without fanfare, to highlight how un-family friendly our current insurance policies are. How anti-woman. How anti-mother."

She might have brought in, say, a widow who lost health insurance after her husband died, therefore leaving the family uninsured. Women, she would have pointed out, are more likely to be on their husband's insurance than vice versa, leaving them vulnerable in the event of divorce, or death, or job loss. She might have invited a young, entrepreneurial would-be mother who desperately sought health insurance to cover a potential future pregnancy, but discovered there was no way to sufficiently cover maternity on the individual insurance market. She might have shown America a mother who owns her own business and discovered, happily, she was pregnant and that, unhappily, she could not find health insurance to cover the prenatal care, labor, and delivery.”

Wildman writes that the First Lady could have told the country that “On the individual market, pregnancy … is a pre-existing condition. Most insurance companies will not allow a woman to purchase insurance once she is already with child. Worrisome, the First Lady would have said, because this woman now has to decide between caring for her fetus and going into debt. Maternity benefits, she would have explained to the cameras, are never a guarantee.”

At the moment health reform appears stuck between a partisan divide. Although many of us are rightfully focused on the important nuances of prevention coverage and policy, the larger context of health reform – coverage, fairness, quality -- is fundamental to our national character. The First Lady can do much to remind us of this even as we are called to become more physically active and less attracted to junk food.

As we enter the final quarter of play lets remember that health reform is a team sport and no one should be left on the bench.

Posted by:
Ripley Forbes
Director, Government Affairs
Partnership for Prevention


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