By Diana J. Mason, RN, PhD, editor-in-chief emeritus

Fuzzy cell phone shot in the Rose Garden, Sept. 10, 2009

Fuzzy cell phone image from West Wing, 9/10/09

I was pleased to represent the American Academy of Nursing yesterday at President Obama’s speech on health care reform to an audience of nurses (including new Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration or HRSA, nurse Mary Wakefield) in the West Wing of the White House. His remarks summarized his powerful presentation to Congress and the nation on Wednesday evening, with one exception: he used the word “nurses” in Thursday morning’s speech. In fact, in that follow-up speech, he talked a lot about nurses, noting that nurses know too well the problems with our health care system, see the impact of its failings on the lives of their patients every day, are trusted by the public, and are key to reforming health care. 

The President’s speech was introduced by Rebecca Patton, president of the American Nurses Association (ANA). He spoke about his own family’s experiences with health care and the essential work of nurses in helping his family members come into this world, leave it gently, and cope with illness. He then summarized some of the major points of the plan he laid out on Wednesday night:

• People won’t have to worry about being dropped from their health insurance plans if they become ill.
• His plan would not force people or employers to change their coverage or choice of physician (and I hope he soon learns that this language should be “provider,” since many of us get our health care from a range of health care providers who may or may not be physicians).
• His plan would forbid insurers from dropping you or refusing to cover you because of a preexisting condition, would limit out-of-pocket expenses, and would provide the uninsured and others with access to an insurance exchange that would promote competition and lower costs. (I’m hoping that this exchange would include a public plan option to spur more competition.)

He’s right. Nurses do know the importance of these elements of health care reform. He shared the example of a posting on the New York Times blog by nurse blogger Theresa Brown, about treating an insurance salesman with cancer. He asked for nurses’ help in talking with people about the importance of health care reform. We can help by talking with patients, friends, and families about the importance of actively supporting health care reform now. As the President said, “We aren’t the first to take up this course, but we’re going to be the last.”

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