Improving Access to Health Care and Promoting Healthy Lifestyles for Everyone


By Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS),
Kathleen Sebelius

Kathleen Sebelius was sworn in as the 21st Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on April 28, 2009. As Secretary, she leads the principal agency charged with keeping Americans healthy, ensuring they get the health care they need, and providing children, families, and seniors with the essential human services they depend on. She also oversees one of the largest civilian departments in the federal government, with nearly 80,000 employees.

I try to begin most mornings with a run. It’s a habit I picked up earlier in life that helps me feel good and stay healthy. That’s important because as a mother, wife, sister, daughter and friend, I know that my health has a direct impact on my family and everyone else I love. It’s something I think about every day as we work to improve access to health care and promote healthy lifestyles for millions of women who, like me, have loved ones depending on them to stay healthy and active.

I’m honored to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services during a time of such important change and progress. One of the most rewarding parts of the job has been working to make the historic health reform legislation, the Affordable Care Act, a reality. Just over a year since President Obama signed the law, it is already helping Latinas get the care and coverage they need to stay healthy, and the information they need to make the best health decisions for their families.

Under the new law, we are expanding health coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, including up to 9 million Latinos. Never again will they have to worry about going bankrupt because of a hospital bill.

Also, there will be fairness in the health insurance market for women. We know that women have different health needs than men, and until now, insurers could charge women more for the same health coverage. The law makes this illegal. And when new health insurance marketplaces are created in 2014 to provide better choices for individuals and small business owners, all plans will be required cover essential health benefits like maternity care and
newborn coverage.

The Affordable Care Act also eliminates out-of-pocket charges for key preventive services like pap smears and mammograms. Over the years, too many women have been forced to choose between paying a $30 co-pay to get a mammogram or using that $30 to buy school supplies for their kids. No one should have to make that choice, and under the new law, they won’t have to.

Good health insurance is important, but we have to do more so people will enjoy good health. Today, two in three adults and one in three children are overweight or obese. In the Latino community, the numbers are even higher, which leads to higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. People live sicker and die younger than they should.

A few weeks ago, I visited a family-owned restaurant in San Antonio where I sampled some delicious vegetarian tamales prepared by Valerie Gonzalez. Like so many Latinas, Valerie’s influence in her community goes beyond the tasty food she serves.

A year ago, when she and some fellow restaurant owners noticed how hard it was to find nutritious foods in their neighborhood, they decided to do something about it. With the support of our department, they started the ¡Por Vida! program, which offers healthy menu choices like the vegetarian tamales throughout San Antonio. Today, more than 120 restaurants are participating in ¡Por Vida!, and the health care law is supporting additional community efforts around the country.

But you don’t have to own a restaurant to make a difference. Better health starts with the choices we make every day. It could be replacing the cookie jar with a fruit bowl. Or it might mean getting your kids to play outside instead of heading straight to the video games after school. These changes can be made by every family, and can lead directly to better health.

Every day, we in the Obama Administration ask what we can do to help Americans live healthier lives. But given the vital role Latinas play in their families and neighborhoods, no one can do more to improve health in Latino communities than mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters. The wellbeing of our loved ones depends on the example we set and the choices we make. When it comes to health, it’s up to us to lead the way.