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Health secretary Sebelius talks to women in Roland Park about medical issues

Participants say their lives would be worse without health care reform

By Larry Perl, lperl@patuxent.com

3:11 PM EST, January 26, 2012

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U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius came to a private house in Roland Park on Thursday to "get the word out" about women's health care issues and promote the Obama administration's controversial health care reform act.

"We find it a very effective way to get the word out," Sebelius said, sitting with about 20 women in the living room of longtime St. John's Road resident Lynda Burton, who teaches health policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.

The event, in the wake of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, was billed by Health and Human Services as the "State of Women's Health," and gave Sebelius a chance, as the second anniversary of the Affordable Care Act approaches, to portray the hotly debated legislation in a positive light.

"There is a lot of talk about Obamacare being a bad idea," Sebelius told reporters afterwards. But she said that when the bill's benefits are broken down and explained piece by piece, many consumers say, "Oh, yeah, I think that's a good idea."

"It's not somebody giving statistics," Sebelius said. "It's real life stories."

And she said women are the most likely Americans to have no health insurance, and that many pay as much as 50 percent more for insurance than men do.

Among the women participating was Robyn Martin, 37, of Waldorf, the mother of a 5-month-old boy born with Cat Eye Syndrome, a life-threatening genetic disorder. Her son, Johannes, nicknamed Jax, had to have surgery to repair four holes in his heart, Martin said as she sat on a sofa in Burton's living room next to Sebelius, with the baby on her lap. Jax's intenstines are also backward, though not twisted, Martin said. She won't know until Jax is older whether he has cognitive problems, she said.

Saying that Jax turned from "a blue baby" to a pink baby" after surgery, his mother, who works on health policy legislation for the Service Employees International Union, extolled the virtues of the Affordable Care Act. Although she said she has excellent health insurance through her job, she added that her policy's lifetime limit is about $2 million, and that the baby's care could eventually exceed that. But she said under the act, the family would continue to be covered, even if she leaves her current job.

"Without this law, we would have the rest of (Jax's) life to pay for whatever the medical (needs) might be," Martin said.

The celebrity of Sebelius was not lost on Burton's daughter, Alice Burton, of Timonium, a health policy consultant and former chief of staff at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"Isn't it nice when the health secretary comes to your neighborhood?" she said.