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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Clara Barton: A Pioneer for Access to Quality Health Care

Clara Barton is widely regarded as an American hero. Her efforts to provide medical services were more than expressions of good will – she linked health care with progress and the power of women during a time when women were considered inferior to men.

One of Barton's greatest achievements was her role in improving the delivery of medical services during wartime. She was a volunteer nurse during the Civil War, but her dedication and ingenuity gained her the respect of army officers. As a result, she was given permission to play a much more engaged role than the average volunteer nurse.

Primarily, her efforts during the Civil War focused on efficiency and access. The medical services of the Union Army were limited and many soldiers died due to neglect. Barton convinced military officers to improve protocol at one battlefield where wounded soldiers often died waiting in ambulances and in the field to go to the hospital. She even brought her own supplies to the front lines in an effort to serve more soldiers.

In 1873, Barton proposed the creation of the American Red Cross to provide medical aid in wartime and crises. The organization was ratified by the Treaty of Geneva in 1881, and she became the first president – a remarkable feat for someone who did not even have the right to vote. In the years following, Barton traveled around the world to assist people in crises who needed medical help. She even sailed to Istanbul for negotiations with Emperor Abdul Hamid II of the Ottoman Empire, who permitted her to open an American International Red Cross headquarters in the heart of Beijing. She brought the organization to Armenia, Cuba, and other places throughout the world. Barton felt that every person, regardless of their race or creed, deserved access to medical care.

After her resignation from the Red Cross presidency, she began an organization called the National First Aid Society. The society developed the original first aid kits and provided first aid classes and information about first aid medical care to the public.

Clara Barton pushed the limits and expectations for both women and health care services. She felt a strong duty to her community and a commitment to the health of the nation.

The new health care law is a step closer to Barton's vision to universal access to medical care, especially the medical care of women. The Affordable Care Act fights discrimination against women by insurance companies and fights for access to quality care:

  • Overall, the health care bill will insure an additional 32 million Americans. It will do this by expanding access to Medicaid, providing help with premiums to low- and middle-income families, and creating new state marketplaces where people can shop for quality, affordable private health insurance coverage.
  • It is now illegal for insurance companies to charge women more than men for health coverage.
  • Special efforts will be made to ensure that services included in the essential benefits package will meet the needs of women.
  • Preventive care, including breast and cervical cancer screenings, will be covered by all new health insurance plans, as will maternity care.
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