Raleigh woman talks health care with Obama
Posted December 19, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — A Raleigh woman's firsthand experience with navigating the health care system led to a face-to-face meeting Wednesday with President Barack Obama about the impact of health care reform on families.
Felicia Willems was among eight mothers from across the country invited to the White House to talk with first lady Michelle Obama and the president, who then enlisted them in a grassroots effort to get as many people enrolled for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
"They did encourage us to go out and ask other moms and families to check out their options to get enrolled," Willems said Thursday, adding that she is planning a series of "health care house parties" around the Triangle in January to spread the word.
Willems' 7-year-old son, Ethan, was born with a rare tumor that required him to start chemotherapy when he was 12 weeks old. She had to quit her job to care for him and lost the health coverage that went with it. Since then, Ethan's pre-existing condition has made getting health coverage a dicey proposition for the family.
"For the rest of his life, he will have a pre-existing condition," she said.
The Affordable Care Act changed that, however, by prohibiting insurers from disqualifying people from coverage because of previous health problems.
"It means peace of mind," Willems said. "We’re able to go out and buy health insurance and know we’re not going be charged more or flat out denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions."
As a member of grassroots group Moms Rising, she has been vocal about health care reform.
"Moms are the primary decision makers when it comes to health care in households," she said. "I feel like moms really get it. They understand the importance of making sure you’re covered."
The Obamas said that's why they invited the women to the White House to discuss the progress of the Affordable Care Act, which has been plagued by problems since the government launched its enrollment website in October.
"It's our job as mothers to make sure that our young people are informed about their invincibility, to make sure that other moms and families out there really understand what this law provides," Michelle Obama said.
Willems called the Obamas "gracious," saying they related a story about the health problems one of their daughters had when she was little.
"They were generally interested to hear from moms," she said.
The president even wrote Ethan a thank you note for the Christmas card he made and gave to his mother to take to the White House.
Willems said the growth and success of the Affordable Care Act is critical to the nation's future.
"Everybody needs health care because, as I learned, sometimes even a newborn doesn’t come out perfect," she said.