A Vision for a Rising, Thriving Middle Class

FILE - In this May 15, 2012 file photo, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks in Bethesda, Md. Medicar
FILE - In this May 15, 2012 file photo, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks in Bethesda, Md. Medicare, overseen by Sebelius' department, is coming under scrutiny in the meningitis outbreak that has rekindled doubts about the safety of the nation’s drug supply. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

In his State of the Union address, President Obama outlined his vision for a growing American economy driven by a rising, thriving middle class. It's a bold plan that builds on the achievements of his first term to promote opportunity for every American.

At the Department of Health and Human Services, we're committed to supporting the president's vision, starting with making health care affordable for working families so that all Americans have a fair shot at living full, productive lives.

Americans who work hard to make a decent living shouldn't have to worry about losing everything because of an illness. That's why, through reforms brought about by the Affordable Care Act, we're putting money back in the pockets of working families, and protecting them from the worst insurance abuses.

Because of the progress we've made, 54 million Americans with private insurance now have access to free preventive care, including mammograms and diabetes screenings. More than 3 million young people have been able to gain coverage through their parents' plan. And 3.5 million seniors saved an average of $706 on their prescription drugs last year.

Families will get even more relief beginning this October, when new Health Insurance Marketplaces open for enrollment in every state. These Marketplaces will give millions of uninsured Americans access to affordable coverage. And new rules taking effect in 2014 will finally bring an end to discrimination based on gender or pre-existing conditions.

Think about what this means for people like Abby Schanfield, a young woman who attended the State of the Union address as a guest of the First Lady. Abby was born with a rare congenital disease that will likely require surgeries throughout her adult life. Now, not only can she stay on her parents' plan until she turns 26, she also knows that she will never again have to worry about an insurance company turning her away because of her condition, or offering her discriminatory rates because of her gender.

Thanks to this progress, Abby can pursue her dreams knowing she'll be able to get the care she needs. That's the peace of mind that health care reform is bringing to millions of middle class Americans like Abby.

Of course, opportunity is about more than affordable health coverage. Having a good job is the cornerstone of middle class financial security. That's why we need to make sure Americans can get the skills they need to do the jobs of tomorrow.

Over the last four years, our Department has trained thousands of new workers to take jobs in fields with high demand, like primary care and health information technology. And the plan the president laid out in his State of the Union address will build on efforts like these by making college more affordable, investing in job-creating industries like clean energy, and forging partnerships with businesses and communities to train American workers for high-tech manufacturing jobs.

We also know that our kids won't be able to compete for the jobs of the future if they've already fallen behind by the time they reach kindergarten. That's why this Administration has made historic investments in early childhood education, and worked to strengthen critical programs like Head Start.

The president has called on Congress to build on this work by expanding access to high-quality preschool to every child in America. His plan would create a new federal-state partnership to provide all low- and moderate-income four-year-olds with high-quality pre-school, while also expanding programs to reach additional children from middle class families. Studies show that early childhood investments pay for themselves many times over. We simply can't afford not to give our children the support they need in these critical early years.

As we continue to strengthen the middle class and invest in our future, the last thing we can afford is a self-manufactured crisis in our economy. Absent Congressional action, March 1st will bring about abrupt and devastating cuts to programs that American families rely on every day, including food safety inspections and mental health services. The president's proposal would prevent these cuts while reducing our deficit by $4 trillion using a balanced, responsible approach -- and under his plan, every new proposal he has put forward would be fully paid for.

Now is the time to work together to ensure that our economy continues to grow in a way that lifts up all working families. We've made tremendous progress in the last few years, but we also know that there is much more to do to ensure that every American has the chance to pursue their dreams. The president has laid out a great roadmap for us to follow as we move forward in pursuit of a stronger, healthier, more prosperous America.