The White House is planning to use First Lady Michelle Obama to push health insurance reform this fall. “She will do things that fit in with what she cares about, like health care reform and the implications it has for family and kids,” said Camille Johnston, Obama’s director of communications. “She will spend her time focusing on where policy and people intersect.”
Speaking to women’s groups at the White House on Friday, the first lady said concern over the country’s health care system “wakes her up at night.” She described reform as “very much a women’s issue” and said the current system is preventing women from obtaining “true equality.”
While Michelle Obama has often spoken out on health matters, she previously limited her focus to promoting good nutrition and exercise. She has also made helping military families a priority. Neither topic has drawn any partisan ire. In fact, she’s amassed a great deal of goodwill — something her husband and his administration can certainly use in the fractious, rancorous health care struggle.
Friday’s event signaled the start of what could prove a more contentious agenda, however. When the first lady returns from Copenhagen, where she will lobby the International Olympic Committee to bring the 2016 Games to her hometown of Chicago, she plans to hold more health-care policy events.
She is qualified to discuss health care where policy and people intersect from her days as Vice President for Community and External Affairs at the prestigious University of Chicago Medical Center. It was there that she developed the UCMC program known as the “South Side Health Collaborative” to solve the problem of her high profile hospital being forced to treat poor patients. This program had “counselors” whose job was to “advise” low-income patients that they would be better off at other hospitals and clinics.
The program was so successful in getting rid of unwanted patients that she expanded it, gave it a new name, and hired none other than David Axelrod to sell the program to the public. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, “Obama’s wife and Valerie Jarrett, an Obama friend and adviser who chaired the medical center’s board, backed the Axelrod firm’s hiring.” Axelrod helped the future First Lady formulate a public relations campaign in which the “Urban Health Initiative” was represented as a boon to the community actuated by the purest of altruistic motives.
How will the White House manage Mrs. Obama’s events? She is needed to get the women of America behind the President’s plan, but they will want to shield her from any serious scrutiny. If she is allowed to get out among the people, somewhere, someone might just ask whether her husband’s plan is being packaged and sold in the same manner as her “patient dumping” plan in Chicago. After all, there was an “Obama-Jarrett-Axelrod Connection” in Chicago and now there is the same connection at the White House.