Secretary Sebelius speaks at the National Action Network

Uploaded by USGOVHHS on 22.01.2013

Kathleen Sebelius: Thank you so much, Reverend Sharpton, for
that gracious and kind introduction. I have to tell of all you who just stood to welcome
me, if you think that counts as your exercise today, it doesn't.
But I do appreciate the warm welcome. I want to also recognize Martin Luther King, III,
and, I know you're eager to hear from him. You're going to hear from a great partner
of mine, who, well [spelled phonetically], also Secretary Arne Duncan.
But when the Reverend talks about education and health care being two of the key initiatives
that Dr. Martin Luther King fought for and talked about, I think he's absolutely right.
So it's really my great honor to be with you today as we celebrate the enduring legacy
of Martin Luther King, and consider how the values that he talked about and fought for
have to continue to guide our work today.
So today, on his birthday, I want to remind you that it was about 50 years and only three
miles from this spot that Dr. King spoke of opening doors of opportunity to all Americans.
Now, on that day, he wasn't to be directly about health care. He was speaking about freedom
[unintelligible], about the right of all people to have a fair shot at achieving their dreams.
But Dr. King knew better than anybody that health care is absolutely fundamental to that
right. He knew without equality in health it was impossible to bring about true equality
in education, or in the workforce, or in society at large.
Now, that may seem a little odd, but think about the child who is struggling to see the
blackboard and falls behind because his eye problem hasn't been identified. And his family
can work less [spelled phonetically]. The parent, who is out of work frequently, has
an untreated chronic condition. The grandmother who ends up in a hospital because she hasn't
been able to avoid [spelled phonetically] preventative care screening. It's only when
we're free from the burden of illness and medical debt that we're fully able to provide
for our loved ones, pursue our dreams, and to make full contributions to our communities
and our families. And yet, here we are, half a century after Dr. King spoke of his dream,
and tens of millions of Americans -- our friends and neighbors -- are still denied that basic
freedom, and we know that way too many of them are African Americans.
But if we truly want to be a country that fills our promise of equity and equality,
a country in which everyone does have a fair shot at achieving his or her potential, then
we absolutely have to rededicate ourselves to ensure that all Americans have an opportunity
to live a healthy life. Now that's why the Obama administration has made closing health
disparities one of our highest priorities, and I've been directed by the president of
the United States to stay focused on that goal.
So over the last four years we've attacked inequality in health care every day. We're
bringing in more doctors and nurses in the hospitals that need them the most. We've launched
a historic effort under our magnificent first lady to promote active lifestyles and healthy
eating habits through the first lady's Let's Move campaign. We've put in place a new action
plan, working to reduce health disparities. And we're seeking out opportunities to support
constant [inaudible] efforts, like your new health and wellness initiatives, part of the
National Action Network, we've all been told [spelled phonetically].
So all of that work is really critical and it will continue, but even if we have a health
center on every corner in every neighborhood, fresh fruits and vegetables in every local
market, and a safe park in every neighborhood, we'll never achieve health equality unless
we also make health care affordable for every American. And that's why this president knew
that as a first term agenda item, he was willing to put all of the political capital he could
possibly muscle into passing the Affordable Care Act. It's [inaudible].
I do have to remind you, because I know that this law is a little controversial, but President
Obama was not the first president to seek to solve this problem. He wasn't the first
administration trying to deal with this problem. In the 100 years since Teddy Roosevelt -- Teddy
Roosevelt proved that there was health [inaudible], eight presidents had tried and failed to tackle
the challenge of affordable health care. In over time, the conventional wisdom was just
too hard -- too politically difficult, there were too many powerful interests aligned against
change. And in that context, when this President took office in an economy that was crumbling
all around him, every single one of those doubters reemerged and said, "You don't want
to do this now. You don't want to take this on now. You don't have to tackle this now.
You don't need to go big. You need to readjust. Slow down. Think smaller. Put it off for another
day," was the advice he was given day in and day out.
But there were others, including lots of you in this room -- and I know Reverend Sharpton
was among them -- who said, "No, we can't slow down. We're tired of thinking small;
we need to think big. Let's travel the difficult road of progress because we can't wait for
another generation for affordable health care." And three years ago, at long last, your voices
were heard and the law was passed.
The Affordable Care Act isn't just another law. It's really a culmination of decades,
one could say a century, of work. It's a kind of historic step forward for equality and
opportunity that most of us only see once or twice in our lifetimes, and we're already
seeing the difference the law is making. Because of the law, insurance companies can no longer
deny coverage to any child in America because of a pre-existing health condition. More than
three million young Americans have already gained coverage under their parents' plan.
Fifty-four million adults who were [unintelligible] now get essential preventative care without
paying co-pays with deductibles, encouraging them to stay healthy in the first place. And
in 2012 alone, nearly three million seniors on Medicare saved an average of more than
$650 each on their prescriptions. More than three million seniors saved $650 -- that's
real money in their pockets every day that goes to --
Now that progress has been shared by all Americans, but it's especially benefits those communities
that have been historically hit the hardest by lack of access to care. I remember Helen,
the grandmother I was with in west Philadelphia. Now, Helen found herself in the so-called
coverage gap known as the donut hole -- such a nice-sounding name, the donut hole.
It's really a vicious cycle. You run out of your insurance money that helps you buy your
prescription drugs. You're suddenly flat out and 100 percent of the money to buy those
drugs then comes out of your pocket. Now it was difficult, though lots of seniors who
did that, they just stopped buying their medication. Helen took seven different medications, and
those costs added up very quickly. So Helen was eager to tell me that thanks to the Affordable
Care Act, she was receiving a 53 percent discount on the brand name drugs. Now, that didn't
fix everything, but it sure went a long way [inaudible] is that donut hole disappearing
entirely, and that's what's coming in the Affordable Care Act. But the 53 percent savings
-- that $650 in her pocket -- helped her breathe a little easier each and every month. And
that's what Helen and millions more Americans have already gained.
But there's still a lot of misinformation out around the country, and a lot of you may
live in states where you may hear your state leaders saying, "We're never going to purchase
a thing. We want no part of this. We are not going to have this federal overreach in our
homes and in our states." You know that there's also millions of dollars in misinformation
being spread as widely as possible. So we need more than Reverend Sharpton -- who's
a pretty good spokesperson on MSNBC, just in case you haven't heard of him. Who thinks
he does a pretty good job --
But he can't do it alone. We need your trusted voices to make sure that people know about
the new benefits that are available to them, and that's really where you come in. Somewhere
in your neighborhood, there's a boy with sickle cell anemia. His parents don't know that their
insurance companies can't prevent him from being part of an insurance policy, can't turn
him away. There's a woman putting off a mammogram that doesn't know that her co-pay is now zero,
and that is the law of the land. There's a senior --
-- who is choosing pills to split [spelled phonetically] that she doesn't know that she
can get discounts that help her afford those medications [inaudible].
So I need your help. I'm here to ask you to help us get the information to those of us
to take full advantages of the law as it unfolds, full advantages of the benefits as they come
into play.
But that's just the start. So here we are in 2013 -- now I've got to tell you, when
President Obama signed this bill on March 23, 2010, 2013 seemed like a long way away.
But it is right now around the corner, because we're in 2013, and in October 1st of this
year, open enrollment starts for new insurance benefits --
Right now, new health insurance marketplaces are being set up in every state across the
land, and I've got to tell you, in spite of what your government may be saying that he
or she doesn't want to participate, the way the law is written, we will set up an insurance
marketplace in every state in this country. Every one --
-- will have the advantage of this law. Starting on October 1st, the marketplace will really
give families and small business owners, for the first time, a whole new to find coverage
that fits their budget. They'll be able to make some smart choices, see premiums and
deductibles, see a list of providers who are enrolled in part of a large pool without ever
having to join an organization, and have our oversight to make sure that companies are
offering a fair deal at a fair price. They'll be eligible for the first time ever in the
history of this country to get tax credits that give them a break on cost if they don't
qualify for Medicaid, but can't afford private coverage on their own. For millions of families,
that is a huge step. People want insurance but they just couldn't pay for it before.
And in light of the work that I've been called on to do and that Secretary Duncan has been
doing -- there are other [unintelligible] colleagues under the leadership of the vice
president around guns and violence and keeping our children safe, I think it's really important
for us to remind people that under the new law, about 65 million Americans who currently
have no mental health benefits, no behavioral health benefits, no substance abuse benefits,
will get those benefits starting with the new protection, and that is a huge step forward
to make sure people get the help they need.
But, again, making coverage available isn't enough. Half of all uninsured adults today
are young and healthy. If you have children in their 20s like I do, you know that getting
health insurance isn't the first priority of that generation. Not quite sure what is
the first priority --
-- but getting health insurance probably isn't. Other uninsured Americans have come to believe
they'll never have access to affordable coverage and have just given up trying. And you see
some of these people every day. They're your friends and neighbors; they may be family
members; they're coworkers; their church neighbors. Starting tomorrow, they'll be able to go to
our website, --, and check their eligibility, their care coverage
options, and choose a plan that works for them. But they won't go unless they know that
new options are available. We're putting a lot of information on that website, trying
to educate folks about what's coming.
But the Affordable Care Act will open the door to expand the coverage for tens of millions
of Americans, but only community leaders can help those uninsured Americans walk through
that door. This is going to be requiring a lot of local action, a lot of local initiative,
and I'm asking you to help us reach folks [spelled phonetically] because we can't do
it alone. Every time you work with members of your community, we need to talk to them
about the fact that health insurance will be available by the end of this year. I want
you to get them talking to their friends about coverage. And it's not just that it's available.
I think the conversation about why health insurance is important -- mind you, what we
think is about half of the unemployed that will be eligible for coverage, have never
had health insurance in their lives. So we shouldn't assume that they know how much peace
of mind that could provide, what kind of benefit that is to get a wellness check-up and not
wait until you're sick; what it is like to have a health home and not have to go through
an emergency room to get your kids' ears checked on or get medications that you might need.
We also know that therefore [spelled phonetically] could be conversations across this country
about expansion of Medicaid. You all know the law says, and the Supreme Court helped
define it, that, starting in 2014, governors that take advantage of what is the most generous
federal-state partnership ever put on the table to expand Medicaid across the country,
and the goal is so it shouldn't matter whether you live in South Carolina or California,
every American under 133 percent of poverty -- and in case you don't carry those numbers
around in your mind, that means a family of four -- a family of four -- earning less than
$31,000 a year. That's 133 percent of poverty. Those folks will be eligible, for the first
time, to Medicaid coverage regardless of where they lived in the state, and the federal government
will pay 100 percent of the costs the first three years, and then gradually reduce those
costs to a 90/10 split. Never has there been a more generous federal offer on the table
for millions of people who could benefit from this. If those conversations are going to
take place in state legislatures across this country this year, and, again, we need your
voices involved in that conversation.
You all know very well the consequences when people in your community go without coverage.
You see it in emergency rooms filled with patients who didn't get the benefit. You see
it in prisons filled with people who lack access to mental health services or substance
abuse coverage [spelled phonetically]. You see it in unemployment offices filled with
people who can't receive treatment for their chronic conditions. So you know the costs
of failing to provide affordable coverage. But there are also huge community benefits
that come from increasing access to health insurance. You can help decision makers know
exactly what's at stake when it comes to expanding Medicaid, and the time to deliver that message
is right now.
So over the next year I hope to see many of you [inaudible] because [unintelligible] are
going to be spending a lot of time traveling around the country, spreading the word along
with other senior health officials. We need to educate, we need to motivate, and we need
to engage and enroll people. We need your help to be [unintelligible] in that effort.
One other thing that Dr. Martin Luther King taught us all: he said change requires more
than legislature and it doesn't just roll on the wheels of inevitably. Progress is not
automatic. If we can't get people who need care signed up, then expanding the access
to health care is meaningless. If we can't give every American access to affordable care,
we'll never correct the system in which peace of mind is a luxury for your -- for only some
of our families. And that correction can't happen here in Washington. It has to happen
across this country, neighborhood by neighborhood, community by community, churches and community
centers, and it has to be led by local leaders like those of you in the room.
Now this is an opportunity we've been waiting for 100 years to get. Now is our chance to
see it through. This share of worth is why I was enthusiastically willing to sign on
for a second term. I've never felt more energized about the work I'm doing, and I hope you'll
join me in the being energized, too. As Dr. King implored, "Let us be dissatisfied until
those who live on the outskirts of hope are brought into the metropolis of daily security."
I'm here because I need to be able to count on you. After all, this isn't the National
"Conversation" Network. This isn't the National "Wait and See" Network. As far as I can tell,
your title is the National Action Network, and that’s exactly what we need right now.
Thank you, god bless you. Thank you for your support.
[applause] ]