First Lady Emphasizes Urgency of Health Reform

NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark attended a September White House meeting hosted by first lady Michelle Obama, who explained the need for health care reform on behalf of women and families.

Obama started her speech by welcoming her good friend, social worker Dr. Dorothy Height, whom the first lady described as her inspiration.

Clark said dozens of women's rights organizations as well as health care reform advocates were in attendance. Three of the women who spoke at the event recalled their own challenges with the current health care system, including burdensome debt from skyrocketing costs and loss of a loved one, untreated illnesses and worries for their children and families.

According to a White House transcript of her remarks, Obama said their stories are similar to those she heard from other women on the campaign trail for two years. Women are being "crushed" by a health care structure that disproportionately affects them, she said.

"We are not only responsible for most of the family caregiving, but also are more likely to work part time or in small businesses, making insurance unaffordable and inaccessible for many women," she said.

Obama noted that women play a unique and increasingly significant role in families. "We know the pain, because we are usually the ones dealing with it," she said. "Eight in 10 women, mothers, report that they're the ones responsible for choosing their children's doctor, for getting them to their checkups, for managing that follow-up care."

Being a parent can be challenging enough, but many women are performing double duty, the first lady pointed out. She said that more than 10 percent of women in the United States currently are caring for a sick or elderly relative.

"In other words, being part of the sandwich generation, is what we are now finding, raising kids while caring for a sick or elderly parent," she said.

Clark, who posted updates of the meeting on NASW's Twitter feed, noted the association addressed the emergence of the sandwich generation in a 2008 survey report, "Not Ready for Prime Time: The Needs of Sandwich Generation Women, a National Survey of Social Workers."

The report highlighted a growing number of sandwich-generation women who are facing more stress because of the situation.

Obama discussed the implications of this dual responsibility in her speech and declared that it is not simply a family or economic concern, but a health care issue.

"Women are affected because, as we heard, in many states, insurance companies can still discriminate because of gender," she said.

"Mobilize like we've never mobilized before," Obama told the audience. "Educate our members on not just what's at stake, but what it all means. Make our voices heard right here in D.C."

Clark said the first lady expressed that if women do not receive proper care and treatment, then their families 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," Clark said.

The White House event was the latest attended by Clark and Height to celebrate efforts to promote the equality of women and the advancement of families this year. They attended President Barack Obama's signing ceremony for passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in January, as well as his March signing of an executive order to create the first-of-its-kind White House Council on Women and Girls.