The President, Personal Stories and Health Care Reform

I’ve been a proponent of telling personal stories to make a political point for as long as I’ve worked in women’s health.  I’ve seen firsthand how powerful a story can be.  I’ve told my own stories and encouraged other women to tell theirs.  But I’ve never seen a President introduced by someone who started by telling her story.  That’s what I saw a few days ago at the White House, and wow, was it powerful.

The White House staff invited about 100 of us who work in women’s health to hear the President give a speech about health reform. I figured that he was going to use Mother’s Day as a hook to talk about how health reform helps women, and he did. But I didn’t know until I got in line to go through security that the President had decided to surround himself with women who have told their personal stories about how health reform has helped them and their families.

I saw a woman I’d been in touch with via email, and another woman whose video I’ve watched more than once on website.  These women (Robyn Martin and Alycia Steinberg) are both active with the Maryland Women’s Coalition for Health Care Reform (one of two dozen local organizations working with Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need).  Robyn and Alycia and many other women like them have told their stories to help make health reform real for women across the nation.

The President was introduced by Carol Metcalf.  She said “I am here today to share with you the profound effect the Affordable Care Act has had on my family” and then went on to explain how her son Justin, a 22-year-old college grad and traumatic brain injury survivor with a rare genetic lung disease, faced insurance denials and caps because of pre-existing conditions until the ACA made it possible for him to stay on the family’s health insurance.  After Carol finished, she introduced President Obama.

The President spoke for nearly 15 minutes, explaining how health reform helps women and families, with frequent references to the women standing on stage with him.  He shared Alycia’s story and waved hello to her 3-year-old daughter Avey, whose health care coverage for leukemia would have been capped had it not been for the Affordable Care Act.

The President told us, “I am 110 percent committed to getting it done right.” He encouraged everyone to get the facts about health care reform and know what’s coming: He explained how people who currently don’t have insurance will be able to enroll in new plans starting this fall. He spoke directly to women who have been concerned about the cost of health care, encouraging them to learn about the new coverage for preventive services, as well as how they can get help in paying the premiums. And he thanked all the women who’ve had the courage to tell their stories, and to fight for change.

P.S.: Later this month, Ms. magazine will publish my article, “We’ve Got You Covered:  10 Things Women Need to Know About Health Reform” to help women get the facts.

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Photo courtesy of SEIU International via Creative Commons 2.0.


Cindy Pearson is Executive Director of the National Women's Health Network and co-founder of Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need.