Guest Blogger

Michelle Obama - What a Woman!

Filed By Guest Blogger | November 17, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: elderly care, health care reform, LGBT elders, LGBT health, LGBT seniors, SAGE, senior health care, women's health

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Roberta Raeburn is a photographer who lives Staten Island, NY and is a Senior Action in a Gay Environment (SAGE) client and volunteer

Kathy-Greenlee-Roberta-Raeburn.jpgImagine my surprise when Catherine Thurston, Deputy Director for Programs at SAGE called to inform me that Sage was invited to the White House and my name came up to attend with Karen Taylor, Director of Advocacy and Training.

Why Me? I'm a lesbian double-caregiver, with both my long-time partner and mother in the same nursing home. By welcoming me into a support group, SAGE helped me navigate the murky waters of the health care system with thoughtful and accurate guidance, ultimately allowing me to put the focus back on my own life.

Entering the Obama White House filled a roomful of women with hope for the future of the health care system and the strong feeling that we count, we are heard and our issues will become their issues. And the government is on our side now: we will not be governed by the insurance companies. Donut holes will be relegated back to Dunkin' Donuts.

Three women took us through their ordeal with health care.  Each of them had played by the rules, worked hard, supported their families but when serious illness struck the family, their health insurance  fell short of the coverage they desperately needed to fulfill their medical  needs.  Even the health benefits attorney with breast cancer, Judith Stein, Executive Director of the Center for Medical Advocacy, had enormous challenges getting her long-time insurance provide to pay for urgently needed cancer treatment and testing.

I had the pleasure of meeting the head of the Administration of Aging, Kathy Greenlee, who recently announced that her agency would be funding the first ever national resource center for LGBT elders. I also met women from the National Council of Aging, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, and shook hands with the President of AARP,  Jennie Chin Hansen. All of these women knew SAGE and welcomed Karen and I warmly as representatives of the LGBT community.

The energy on the room was positive and hopeful and First Lady Michelle Obama  said it best: ".....these women who raised us, these women who supported us through the years, they deserve better than the status quo. They deserve a health care system that heals them and lifts them up."

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Thank you for quietly representing the LGBT community at the gathering, Roberta, but what was the purpose of the event? Was it a meeting with Michelle Obama?

The event was a White-House sponsored forum on health insurance reform and its impact on older women.

SAGE (as represented so ably by Roberta) was invited as one of several organizations working with older women to attend.

As Roberta described above, the guest speakers were all women who were working, insured women who had "played by the rules" and had every right to expect that when they were impacted by a health issue, their insurance coverage would cover their needs. In every case, insurance fell short, driving one into bankruptcy, one working far beyond her retirement age in order to keep from falling into bankruptcy, and one to address how her single illness would make her small non-profit's health insurance coverage skyrocket to $400,000 annually.

The First Lady hosted the event, speaking in support of her husband's efforts to reform health insurance and systems in our country. She spoke passionately about and to the strength of working women, both those in the workforce today and those who have retired.

I must say there's nothing quite like being in a room of 200 older women who have been longtime activists, advocates, and movement-builders. There was no one in that room who did not have a personal connection to the domino-like effect that one health crisis can cause to a family, a business, or a community organization. I was both proud and humbled to be among them.