Affordable Care Act architect Nancy-Ann DeParle talks voting and health care at Wednesday event

Students heard about health-care policy, voting and more at a Wednesday event.

In a virtual talk hosted by Women in Politics and Duke Students for Biden, Nancy-Ann DeParle, deputy chief of staff for policy in the Obama administration and architect of the Affordable Care Act, spoke to students about her background in politics, health care in the United States and the importance of voting. 

“As President [Barack] Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have been saying every time you turn on your social media, we have to make sure that every student gets registered to vote,” she said. “There’s nothing more important you could be doing right now than helping turn North Carolina blue.”

As an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, DeParle knew she was interested in politics but wasn’t initially sure which party she wanted to be involved in, especially in the wake of Watergate.

“As I looked at the leaders that I knew about, President [John F.] Kennedy and others in Tennessee, I came to realize that really, I was a Democrat,” she said. “We are a party that’s inclusive, listens to people, cares about people, that respects people.”

DeParle noted the ideological divide regarding health care that exists today, especially under the Trump administration. President Donald Trump, she said, has done nothing but try to take health care away from people by attacking the ACA. 

“I thought…maybe he’ll just kind of avoid it because it’s so hard to take on. But no, he went after it,” she said. 

Despite attacks on the ACA, DeParle said she was hopeful that new leadership in providing health care would still increase the value of health care while lowering the cost simply because “it is the right thing to do.”

DeParle spoke to the caustic rhetoric against the ACA in many Republican circles, including in her home state of Tennessee. This, she said, was probably from a voter’s misunderstanding of what is “really in” the act.

“I would ask [a Republican voter in Tennessee], do you believe that people should get insurance to cover their health care? Do you believe that you should have access to affordable care? Do you believe that if you’ve had an illness, or cancer, or born with a congenital heart defect that you should be able to get affordable insurance? And if you believe in those things, then you should be for [the ACA],” she said.

While DeParle did not criticize Trump for the emergence of COVID-19, she denounced “how he handled it, and how his whole team has handled it,” accusing the administration of “meddling in the science.” 

She contrasted the current administration with a potential Biden-Harris pandemic response.

“President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect [Kamala] Harris will have a plan when they walk in,” she said.

Biden’s health care plan builds on the system that we have right now, she said. She described significant investments in public health infrastructure, restoring national stockpiles of medical equipment and removing political overtones in medical decisions. Additionally, although employers will still provide health care, a public plan option will be available and administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service. 

“All of those are the central elements of the plan. [Biden] can get it through Congress. But it makes a huge difference to him and Vice President—I hope—Harris, if they have a Democratic Congress,” she said.

DeParle expressed great enthusiasm for the future of women in American politics, citing women like Harris, a Democratic senator from California; Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.); and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“They make me very optimistic about where we’re headed here and the role of women in getting this done,” she said. 

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